To speak of ancient Greece is to speak of the cradle of philosophy. There are many names of master thinkers that have come down to us today.
Theophrastus is one of them. This is why we will devote this article to know a little better what the life of this intellectual was like and what were the main issues on which he worked in the different fields of knowledge that he cultivated, which were diverse, because they did not were not limited to philosophy. . So let’s start with this one biography of Theophrastus.
Brief biography of Theophrastus
The philosopher Tyrtamus, better known as Theophrastus, was born in 371 BC in Eresus, a town on the island of Lesbos.. In this place he had his first approach of the philosophy, being Alcippus his professor in this discipline. After this first training, he decided to settle in Athens, the cradle of great thinkers.
It was there that he met Aristotle, with whom he formed a great friendship. In fact, the two are believed to have shared the exile that occurred after the death of Plato, who was the ruler of Aristotle and possibly also of Theophrastus himself. It is also believed that it was he who convinced him to move to Mytilene, as he was in his native country.
In fact, to get an idea of the great friendship that united these two thinkers, it must be said that the very name, or rather pseudonym, of Theophrastus, was given by Aristotle himself. This expression meant, in classical Greek, phrasing and God, or what is the same, to speak divinely. A recognition of the conversational skill that he usually demonstrated during interviews.
On the island of Lesbos, the two philosophers deepened their knowledge in different natural sciences. Theophrastus concentrated on plants, while Aristotle preferred to study everything related to animals. The friendship between the two would lead them to also share the trip to Macedonia, In which Aristotle would become the guardian of Alexander the Great. After this task, they both returned to the Greek capital.
Return to Athens and death of Aristotle
Back in Athens, Aristotle took over the management of the Lycée, the school of philosophy that he himself had created several years ago. But the political conflicts between Greece and Macedonia that erupted after Alexander’s death forced a figure like Aristotle to leave the city again. It was then that Theophrastus took over the front of the Peripatetic school.
Aristotle died a few years later, around 322 BC. J. – C. Théophraste will always direct this school for a long time. In addition, by express desire of his friend, he took charge of tutor of the sons of Aristotle, between whom was the famous Nicómac. Not only that, Theophrastus also inherited Aristotle’s magnificent library, Including original manuscripts of his own works.
This was the confidence Aristotle had in Theophrastus, who also recorded that he wanted him to be the new director of the Lyceum, which made him the highest authority in this temple of knowledge. This fact generated some friction, because this place was very coveted and other philosophers, like Eudem de Rodes and Aristoxemo also aspired to obtain it one day, but this decision truncated his plans.
Management of the Liceu and last years
Théophraste was then the new director of the Lycée and also of the Peripatetic School, an organization which experienced great growth under his orders. It is said that there were two thousand disciples. He was at the head of the institution for thirty-five years, before passing the baton to Strato de Lampsac.
The great Theophrastus died in Athens at the age of 85. From the preserved accounts of the time, it seems that one of his last words was: “We died when we began to live”. Most of the biographical data of this author’s life comes from the documents of Diogenes Laerci, who immortalized the life of this thinker and others through the volume, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.
The death of Theophrastus was a cause of mourning for the whole Athenian city. A large part of the population participated in the funeral procession to accompany his remains to the grave. In his will, he indicated that he wanted his house and garden to become a seat of knowledge, that is, another center where philosophy and other disciplines would be studied.
like that, even after his death, Theophrastus made sure that new students had the opportunity to continue to learn and cultivate., To expand knowledge for the benefit of all mankind. As for his library, he bequeathed it to Neleo, one of his disciples. Among all these books, there were still the originals of Aristotle, so the collection was of untold value.
The work of Theophrastus preserved
It is believed that Theophrastus’s own work consisted of over two hundred volumes. However, only a few of them have survived to the present day, which were more important at times and were therefore copied in larger quantities, thus increasing the chances that these contents would be preserved over time.
Of all, perhaps the most important are two botanical collections. Recall that during his stay on the island of Lesbos with Aristotle, Theophrastus devoted most of his time to this study, so it is not surprising that all this work was embodied in large-scale works. Between the two collections, there are fifteen books on plant species and their functions.
His work on the characters is also well known. It’s a particular satire on the different types of people one might find in Athens society at this time, usually focusing on the negative details of these people. The work consists of around thirty examples of these characters, in the form of sketches.
Of course, he also embodied his knowledge of philosophy. Some of the works preserved in this regard deal with metaphysics, trying to approach the principles that govern our world, while others are a collection of the different theories that other authors have put forward on sensations. More precisely, in this work, Theophrastus tells us about the treatises of thinkers such as Parmenides, Democritus and even Plato himself.
but also other writings of very diverse subjects are preserved. It seems that Theophrastus liked to think and write about all these elements that he could perceive. This is why today we can find works related to concepts as disparate as fire, wind or different types of rocks. This author tried to find explanations on the origin and the properties of each of these elements.
even he dared a treatise on meteorology, Try to collect all the known methods to predict, from the signals of nature, the changes that would occur in the weather over the next few days or in different seasons. This type of information was useful for the general population, but especially for those who worked in the field or were navigators.
Of course, the human body itself was another of the themes Theophrastus used for some books. The sweat caught his attention and he tried to find out why this fluid was generated in our body and what its characteristics were. Likewise, the same feeling of fatigue has also been studied for him. In one of his books, he deals with listing the reasons that can be the cause and what are the consequences.
It was not the only sensation that caught Theophrastus’ attention. Dizziness was another condition that he did not understand well at the time, so this author tried to study it more in order to find the causes of this particular phenomenon, to better understand why this mechanism occurs in the human body on certain occasions.
During his studies, Theophrastus also he had time to get closer to the world of zoology. In this area, it seems that the animals which most retained their attention were fish. Specifically, he was interested in species that did not behave like other congeners and instead of staying in the water all the time, he performed strange behaviors such as going out on land, jumping out of the water and even hide. Earth.
without a doubt, it was an enormous number of themes that Theophrastus cultivated throughout his life of study. It should be borne in mind that these are only a small part of his works, as most of them do not contain volumes and their themes can only be intuitive through the references of other authors. .
Some of the topics covered in these books were logic, psychology, physics, politics, ethics, rhetoric, music, and poetry.
- Cuvier, G. (1830). Ninth Lecture – Theophrastus. Lectures by Baron Cuvier on the history of natural sciences. New Edinburgh Philosophical Journal.
- Dorandi, T. (2013). Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Cambridge University Press.
- Long, G. (1842). Theophrastus. Penny Cyclopedia of the Society for the dissemination of useful knowledge.
- Walton, SA (2001). Theophrastus in Lyngurium: medieval and modern tradition of classical lapidary tradition. Annals of Science.