In the wonderful story of human adventure three names are eternal. They’re not names of kings, politicians, or athletes but the names of thinkers of whom many nations in the world still study their works. These Greeks lived long before Jesus was born.
A soldier who used to be a stonemason fell into a trance and remained so for 24 hours. When he revived he was very changed. Broad shouldered, deep-chested and strong-legged he had a head too large for his body and he was ugly. Regarded by citizens as odd but, brave and strong, he was loved and admired by many. His name was Socrates.
He told men that the gods whom they prayed to and gave offerings to were not worth a thought. They were created by men like themselves; whereas there was something in the universe really deserving of man’s adoration, higher, grander, and more inspiring than anything else. And that was God, a divine being, Socrates said. God did not struggle with violent passions, was not tempted to use brute force, or threaten men and interfere human affairs. He was a spirit. He was truth, beauty, and goodness. He personified perfection. Having created the universe man, was then created, he assured. A wise man, Socrates told those who’d listen, does not devote himself only to making money, wearing fine clothes, or dwelling in fine houses. God desired that men seek honesty and reason and to develop a conscience. He claimed that sovereign reason should decide all matters. Question everything, he said. He told philosophers that they should seek truth and reason. That’s when the priests and other philosophers felt threatened and became increasingly annoyed. Barefooted, he walked about telling anyone who’d listen about his revelations. It was this talk that, eventually, brought him to a martyr’s death.
A handsome, aristocratic youth, Plato listened to him with unfailing interest. After Socrates’ death, Plato went to Megara where he met Euclid. Then, he went to Egypt to study geometry. In Sicily, he studied philosophy, and at 40 returned to Athens where he set up a school of philosophy named Academus. He had dignity, fine manners, and a passion for wisdom. He wrote beautifully, being of an artistic nature and preserved the glorious simplicity of Socrates’ teachings. It took a philosopher like Plato to make Socrates’ teachings understandable. As Plato was a disciple of Socrates, Aristotle, from Macedonia, was a disciple of Plato and had attended the Academus School. He lived like a socialite until he met Plato. Then, he abandoned all trivial pursuits and became a true seeker after truth. He married a woman he loved and lived the happiest domestic life. He was delicate in voice and stature, gentle, kind, and modest. Not as ebullient as Socrates or as Plato, he was domestic and had simple tastes. In Aristotle’s time Phillip of Macedon chose him as tutor to his son, Alexander. (343- 336 BC).
Aristotle was fascinated by nature. “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous,” he said. He was the first naturalist, the first man of empirical science. A careful observer, he believed nothing happened by chance. Plato disapproved that Aristotle also enjoyed reading old books, saying, ‘you cannot be original in thought if you get your ideas from reading books.’
Aristotle laid personal feelings aside. “Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies”, he believed. Plato was dear to him but truth was dearer. He felt it his sacred duty to defend truth as he saw it.
Socrates taught never to dogmatize, never pretend or be false. “Two things of which we can be sure of,” he said, “the existence of a spirit god and the existence of our souls. Therefore, we must care for our souls.”
Plato taught to realize that in all that we see with human eyes there is an invisible truth which no words can define. The feeling of the divinity of our souls and to live by meditation, wonder, and adoration should be our goal.
Aristotle absorbed those teachings, but he taught that above and beyond all else, observe! He opened the Lyceum school (peripatos, or walking school), teaching as he walked, but he told his students that looking at trees and fields is nothing if there are looked at superficially. Schools should teach that the laws of god are here, about the divinity of the earth, and that the universe is sacred. So, we must be honest as Socrates, spiritual as Plato, and as intellectual as Aristotle.
In the 9th century Arab scholars introduced Aristotelian theory to Islam. St Thomas of Aquinas introduced Aristotle’s influence into Christianity.
John Stuart Mill said, “the Greeks are the most remarkable people that ever existed.” Macaulay said, “politically weak, numerically small, materially poor, all science, literature and art began with this single people.” Oh, them Greeks!