The Philosopher’s Tomb

Looks like the archaeologists have found Aristotle’s tomb:

ATHENS — A Greek archaeologist who has been leading a 20-year excavation in northern Greece said on Thursday that he believed he had unearthed the tomb of Aristotle.

In an address at a conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, commemorating the 2,400th anniversary of Aristotle’s birth, the archaeologist, Konstantinos Sismanidis, said he had “no proof but strong indications, as certain as one can be,” to support his claim.

Everyone join me in wishing our buddy Aristotle a happy birthday. We’re still talking about him after all these years! What a guy.

Next question on the agenda: so who owns the tomb? Seriously.

17 thoughts on “The Philosopher’s Tomb

  1. I feel an obligation to point out how paltry the evidence for attributing this tomb to Aristotle is. From all the reports I’ve read, nothing at the site itself links it to Aristotle. The reasoning is simply that it is large and prominently displayed, and that since Aristotle is the only famous person we know from Stagira, it’s probably Aristotle’s. Aristotle did not die in Stagira, and his will (or what Diogenes Laertius reports as his will, anyway) does not specify that his remains should be returned there. The only evidence we have that the remains were returned there comes from quasi-hagiographic biographies written centuries later; scholars tend to agree that those biographies are all dependent on a single biography written by some fellow called Ptolemy, but they disagree about which Ptolemy this is likely to have been and when he wrote; the earliest conjecture is 2nd century AD, and the more widely held view seems to be that it dates to the 4th century AD. We don’t have that biography; we just have others that seem pretty clearly to rely on a single source and a few references to a biography written by a guy named Ptolemy. So the attribution relies on (i) a non-extant, reconstructed text written 500 years after the supposed event and (ii) our ignorance of Stagira in the late 4th century. So while this could be Aristotle’s tomb, anyone willing to generalize the kind of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that it is his tomb would be virtually guaranteed to form loads of false beliefs.

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    • Party pooper. I guess I was just following Indiana Jones’s epistemic rule that archaeologists have mastery over “facts,” whereas philosophers merely have jurisdiction over Truth.

      Indiana Jones is–for obvious reasons–my pedagogical role model.

      I guess I have to admit that an archaeologist’s claim to be “as certain as one can be” need not be truth-tracking. That’s why there’s no evidence that King David ever set foot in the City of David, or that Jesus was crucified in the Garden Tomb.

      Depressing, though, that Aristotle is (probably) not buried in Aristotle’s Tomb. Sigh. Before you know it, some young historiographical whipper snapper will “prove” that Lincoln isn’t buried in the Lincoln Tunnel….

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      • Well, there’s some evidence that David set foot in Jerusalem; there’s bunches of texts that say he did. That’s defeasible evidence, of course. But it’s a whole lot more evidence than I’ve seen for this being Aristotle’s tomb.

        I think that scene from Last Crusade was the occasion for some of my earliest philosophical thoughts. I’d be embarrassed to say how long it took me to recognize how specious Indy’s distinction there is.

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        • “The City of David” is a propagandistic designation for the Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem. A whole nationalist mythology has grown up over King David’s supposed presence in that neighborhood, but there’s no evidence nearly as specific as that.

          You mean “Temple of Doom,” not “Last Crusade.” Last Crusade was about Nazis and gallant Arabs–in Petra, Jordan. Who could forget Elsa? “You should have listened to your father.” Only a Nazi could spew such hate.

          I was a teenager when “Temple” came out, and I literally believed that academics were able to escape office hours by jumping out of their office windows, that they consorted with Kate Capshaw-like show girls in exotic foriegn lands, and that they carried whips. The distinction between “fact” and “truth” was the last thing on my mind. Though the years have gone by, and my illusions have crumbled, the longings remain.

          “Anything Goes”. Yeah, right. Try teaching at Felician and say that.

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          • “Fact, not truth” is from Last Crusade. There’s no teaching in Temple of Doom. These films have quasi-canonical status in my family (though we do not recognize the most recent film as genuine).

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          • You’re right. You really are a historian! Of course, it says “Last Crusade” right there on the video. I seem to have adopted the reading habits of my students.

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        • Well…sort of.

          Part of being an academic these days involves putting yourself out there as an expert, being the face of some topic, the person who can explain the importance of an anthropological concept to students and the public. I have tried to take up this challenge with my personal blog, Powered by Osteons, which I envision as a public form of the informal communication that I have all the time with my colleagues. Powered by Osteons covers topics related to archaeology, bio-anthropology, and classics.

          I would put myself out there as an expert, too, but the problem is, I don’t know anything. Maybe I can be an expert on ignorance. Well, my ignorance. But even there, I’m not sure of its extent. I can’t even get the Indiana Jones films straight. So many unknown unknowns.

          Anyway, I bet that not even Professor Smartypants Bioarchaeologist knows who owns the tomb. That’s a normative question. Of course, I don’t know who owns it, either.

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          • Well, you don’t have the kind of professional training that manifests itself most in an ability to remember the provenance of quotations, see. I can’t think of a PhD degree that requires less knowledge-that than philosophy, though I hear that some programs still have things like reading lists and comprehensive exams (UT Austin did not, unless you specialized in ancient philosophy, in which case you had to prove that you can produce an intelligible translation of a page of Plato or Aristotle from a small list of texts that you’d already read before in Greek). Our comprehensive exams in Greek and Latin literature required us to do things like look at 15 lines of text and identify its author, text, and context, and to draw upon loads of memorized information about the material. The best question I received in the orals for my Greek lit exam was “so…what about Charon of Lampsacus?” (If you don’t know who that is, you’re no worse off than most people who have taken that exam; it just so happened that I had been reading about Charon a few nights before, and so was able to rattle off more or less everything that is known about him, which I then promptly forgot). For a classicist, I am really pretty bad at this sort of thing. I know people who can look at a single line of poetry and either remember where it comes from or make highly probable conjectures based on features of the language and style. I just remember what happens in which Indiana Jones films because I have seen each of them more times than I could count; in fact, one of my earliest memories of anything at all is of watching the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark on a VCR that my dad rented (“poison is fresh, three days; they are following us.” “If they knew we were here, they would have killed us already”).

            But it’s alright. I may not know many philosophers who were required to master as many “facts” as most classics PhDs, but philosophers on the whole are, in my experience, much more adept at argument and reasoning. Witness Kostas Sismanidis – though I don’t want to demean classics and classical archaeology by suggesting that his reasoning meets the general standards of the discipline. At least you’re really good at that. I’m not much better at it than I am at remembering stuff and identifying isolated lines of text; I just try to combine my various mediocre skills into a unique package.

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          • Most philosophers don’t regard knowledge-that as knowledge.

            I did once wow Richard Sorabji with a textual reference. He was trying to remember something that MacIntyre had said somewhere, and as he sat there struggling to remember it, I burst out with the quote, verbatim, from page such and such of Whose Justice? Which Rationality? He said, “Wow–what a memory! You should be in classics.” I took the compliment without mentioning that I had just happened to look at that very passage a few minutes before walking over to his talk. In other words, I should have been in diplomacy.

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  2. I’m giving it .6 degree of confidence that we have found Aristotle’s tomb. You might argue me down to .53 or so. At this degree of confidence, though, I won’t infer much of importance from this belief (or belief-like state). Am I on target here or should I just regard my belief that we have found Aristotle’s tomb as some fun self-delusion that I will continue to indulge myself in?

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