|The tomb in Stageira causing a fuss
Call me a cynic, but has archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis really found a single shred of evidence that the tomb excavated in ancient Stageira long ago in 1996 houses the remains of Aristotle? After the Amphipolis ‘tomb of Alexander’ fiasco last summer, we are entitled to be sceptical. And releasing the information in the 2,400th anniversary year of Aristotle’s birth strikes me as a little too much of a coincidence.
|The Tomb Mandeville claimed to have seen
Amongst Sismanidis’ alleged ‘literary sources’ which ‘prove’ that Aristotle was really buried there is, I believe, John Mandeville’s 1499 Travels: ‘In this country was Aristotle born, in a city that men clepe Stagyra, a little from the city of Thrace. And at Stagyra lieth Aristotle; and there is an altar upon his tomb. And there make men great feasts for him every year, as though he were a saint. And at his altar they holden their great councils and their assemblies, and they hope, that through inspiration of God and of him, they shall have the better council.’
I am happy to believe Sir John when he says that there was a cult of Aristotle in medieval eastern Chalkidiki. Aristotle was by far the most famous person from that part of the world and read obsessively in medieval universities. I also LOVE the illustration of the tomb in the manuscript. But Sismanidis is carefully not telling the world that Aristotle’s ‘actual’ tomb has been sensationally ‘discovered’ before.
|Waldstein enters Aristotle's Other Tomb
If you read the article published by famous American archaeologist Charles Waldstein in Century magazine in 1892, you will find that that 'Aristotle’s' marble tomb was excavated by the American School of Archaeology of Athens at Eretria in 1891. Waldstein, a colourful figure who deserves a whole blog to himself, claimed to have found styluses (although he didn’t go so far as to say that they were the ones used to write the Nicomachean Ethics), a portrait statue of the philosopher, and an inscription bearing Aristotle’s name.
|Portrait Statue of Aristotle Waldstein found in Euboea Grave
Waldstein’s ‘tomb of Aristotle’ is much nearer the place where the actual ancient sources said the philosopher died, in Chalcis, Euboea, in 322 BCE. Early Christians claimed he had drowned himself, after a last-minute religious conversion, in the wild tides of the Euripus, but other ancient writers say he died of his longstanding stomach complaint.
I am delighted by the attention Aristotle is getting as I am finishing a book called Ten Ways Aristotle Can Change Your Life. I wrote on his life and death in this month’s History Today. I would love to believe that anything new about the Magnificent Man from Stageira has been unearthed. But I am not impressed by any of the ‘evidence’ Sismanidis has ‘revealed’ so far.