Books

The Art of Rhetoric

Aristotle

With the emergence of democracy in the city-state of Athens in the years around 460 BC, public speaking became an essential skill for politicians in the Assemblies and Councils - and even for ordinary citizens in the courts of law. In response, the technique of rhetoric rapidly developed, bringing virtuoso performances and a host of practical manuals for the layman. While many of these were little more than collections of debaters' tricks, the Art of Rhetoric held a far deeper purpose. Here Aristotle (384-322 BC) establishes the methods of informal reasoning, provides the first aesthetic evaluation of prose style and offers detailed observations on character and the emotions. Hugely influential upon later Western culture, the Art of Rhetoric is a fascinating consideration of the force of persuasion and sophistry, and a compelling guide to the principles behind oratorical skill.

The Athenian Constitution

Aristotle (and others)

Probably written by a student of Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution is both a history and an analysis of Athens' political machinery between the seventh and fourth centuries BC, which stands as a model of democracy at a time when city-states lived under differing kinds of government. The writer recounts the major reforms of Solon, the rule of the tyrant Pisistratus and his sons, the emergence of the democracy in which power was shared by all free male citizens, and the leadership of Pericles and the demagogues who followed him. He goes on to examine the city's administration in his own time - the council, the officials and the judicial system. For its information on Athens' development and how the democracy worked, The Athenian Constitution is an invaluable source of knowledge about the Athenian city-state.

The Metaphysics

Aristotle

Aristotle's probing inquiry into some of the fundamental problems of philosophy, The Metaphysics is one of the classical Greek foundation-stones of western thought, translated from the with an introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred in Penguin Classics.

The Metaphysics presents Aristotle's mature rejection of both the Platonic theory that what we perceive is just a pale reflection of reality and the hard-headed view that all processes are ultimately material. He argued instead that the reality or substance of things lies in their concrete forms, and in so doing he probed some of the deepest questions of philosophy: What is existence? How is change possible? And are there certain things that must exist for anything else to exist at all? The seminal notions discussed in The Metaphysics - of 'substance' and associated concepts of matter and form, essence and accident, potentiality and actuality - have had a profound and enduring influence, and laid the foundations for one of the central branches of Western philosophy.

Hugh Lawson-Tancred's lucid translation is accompanied by a stimulating introduction in which he highlights the central themes of one of philosophy's supreme masterpieces.

Aristotle (384-22 BC) studied at the Academy of Plato for 20 years and then established his own school and research institute, 'The Lyceum'. His writings, which were of extraordinary range, profoundly affected the whole course of ancient and medieval philosophy and are still eagerly studied and debated by philosophers today.

If you enjoyed The Metaphysics, you might like Aristotle's The Nicomachean Ethics, also available in Penguin Classics.

Poetics

Aristotle

A penetrating account of Greek tragedy, it demonstrates how the elements of plot, character and spectacle combine to produce 'pity and fear' - and why we derive pleasure from this apparently painful process. It introduces the crucial concepts of mimesis ('imitation'), hamartia ('error') and katharsis, which have informed serious thinking about drama ever since. It examines the mythological heroes, idealised yet true to life, whom Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides brought on to the stage. And it explains how the most effective plays rely on complication and resolution, recognitions and reversals.
Essential reading for all students of Greek literature, the Poetics remains equally stimulating for anyone interested in theatre today.

De Anima (On the Soul)

Aristotle (and others)

For the Pre-Socratic philosophers the soul was the source of movement and sensation, while for Plato it was the seat of being, metaphysically distinct from the body that it was forced temporarily to inhabit. Plato's student Aristotle was determined to test the truth of both these beliefs against the emerging sciences of logic and biology. His examination of the huge variety of living organisms - the enormous range of their behaviour, their powers and their perceptual sophistication - convinced him of the inadequacy both of a materialist reduction and of a Platonic sublimation of the soul. In De Anima, he sought to set out his theory of the soul as the ultimate reality of embodied form and produced both a masterpiece of philosophical insight and a psychology of perennially fascinating subtlety.

The Politics

Aristotle (and others)

Twenty-three centuries after its compilation, 'The Politics' still has much to contribute to this central question of political science. Aristotle's thorough and carefully argued analysis is based on a study of over 150 city constitutions, covering a huge range of political issues in order to establish which types of constitution are best - both ideally and in particular circumstances - and how they may be maintained. Aristotle's opinions form an essential background to the thinking of philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli and Jean Bodin and both his premises and arguments raise questions that are as relevant to modern society as they were to the ancient world.

Biography

Aristotle was born at Stageira, in the dominion of the kings of Macedonia, in 384 BC. For twenty years he studied at Athens in the Academy of Plato, on whose death in 347 he left, and, some time later, became tutor of the young Alexander the Great. When Alexander succeeded to the throne of Macedonia in 335, Aristotle returned to Athens and established his school and research institute, the Lyceum, to which his great erudition attracted a large number of scholars.

After Alexander's death in 323, anti-Macedonian feeling drove Aristotle out of Athens, and he fled to Chalcis in Euboea, where he died in 322. His writings, which were of extraordinary range, profoundly affected the whole course of ancient and medieval philosophy, and they are still eagerly studied and debated by philosophers today. Very many of them have survived and among the most famous are the Ethics and the Politics.