Suggested reading: Aristotle goes to Hollywood

by Philip Freeman

If you wanted to write a screenplay for a blockbuster film, Aristotle is the last person you might ask for advice. He lived more than 2,000 years ago, spent his days lecturing on ethics and earthworms, and never saw a movie in his life. But some of the best contemporary writers of stage and screen, such as Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet, think that this ancient Greek philosopher knew exactly how to tell a gripping story for any age. ‘The rulebook is the Poetics of Aristotle,’ Sorkin says. ‘All the rules are there.’

Aristotle seems like an unlikely guide for storytellers. He was born in the wild land of Macedonia in northern Greece where his father was serving as court physician to the local king, the grandfather of Alexander the Great. After his parents died while he was still a teenager, Aristotle travelled to Athens to study with Plato, the student of Socrates and most famous philosopher of the day. Plato was a brilliant theorist but had little interest in the practical and experimental work that Aristotle loved. The younger man dissected oysters and waded through swamps collecting tadpoles, basically inventing the science of biology, while Plato was busy discoursing on the invisible reality underpinning the cosmos. After Plato died, Aristotle returned to Macedonia for a time to become the tutor of young Alexander, then founded his own school in Athens called the Lyceum, devoted to research and teaching. … (continue at Aeon)

Published by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

3 thoughts on “Suggested reading: Aristotle goes to Hollywood

  1. I actually went to a couple of lectures at Oxford on Aristotle’s *Poetics*, in an attempt to impress a young woman reading English. If my memory serves me well, this article makes a better job of presentation than the lecturer did.

    “since the second half of the Poetics on comedy is missing”; the deliberate suppression of this subversive document is, as I expect you know, the motive for murder in Umberto Eco’s *Name of the Rose*

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