When Alexander the Great was already at war in Asia, strange news reached him from his homeland: his tutor Aristotle had made public his teachings, those same doctrines with which he had imbued the mind and soul of the young Macedonian, allowing the whole world to know them. Alexander’s displeasure is reflected in the alleged letter he immediately sent to the philosopher, quoted by Plutarch:
Alexander to Aristotle greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.Plutarch, Life of Alexander VII
Aristotle’s response, according to Plutarch, was to defend himself by assuring his pupil that he should be calm, since in reality his treatises on Metaphysics were not useful for learning and instruction, since he had written them to serve as an index or reminder to those already indoctrinated. Unequivocally, whether the answer is apocryphal or not, it is a clear defense of the figure of the teacher, without whose guidance knowledge cannot be interpreted.
Aristotle had been called by Philip II of Macedonia in 343 B.C. to be Alexander’s tutor. To convince him he had to make certain gestures of favor, including the concession of an appropriate place for the carrying out of the educational work, as Plutarch also tells us:
considering him to be of a temper easy to be led to his duty by reason, but by no means to be compelled, he always endeavored to persuade rather than to command or force him to anything; and now looking upon the instruction and tuition of his youth to be of greater difficulty and importance, than to be wholly trusted to the ordinary masters in music and poetry, and the common school subjects, and to require, as Sophocles says, the bridle and the rudder too, he sent for Aristotle, the most learned and most celebrated philosopher of his time, and rewarded him with a munificence proportionable to and becoming the care he took to instruct his son. For he repeopled his native city Stagira, which he had caused to be demolished a little before, and restored all the citizens who were in exile or slavery, to their habitations. As a place for the pursuit of their studies and exercises, he assigned the temple of the Nymphs, near Mieza, where, to this very day, they show you Aristotle’s stone seats, and the shady walks which he was wont to frequent. It would appear that Alexander received from him not only his doctrines of Morals, and of Politics, but also something of those more abstruse and profound theories which these philosophers, by the very names they gave them, professed to reserve for oral communication to the initiated, and did not allow many to become acquainted withPlutarch, Alexander VII
Of the eight years that Aristotle spent at the Macedonian court, only two instructed Alexander, until he began his military career, as well as other young men such as Ptolemy, Cleitus, Hephaestion and Cassander. The teaching took place in the Nymphaeum provided by Philip, whose remains we are still fortunate to be able to contemplate and visit today.
It is located in Isvoria, on the outskirts of ancient Macedonian Mieza from which, apart from the remains of the Nymphaeum, excavations carried out since 1954 found several richly decorated Hellenistic tombs, some residential buildings and even a Roman theater (discovered in 1992). Today it belongs to the municipality of Nausa, in Central Macedonia at the foothills of Mount Vermio, just two kilometers from the capital of the same name.
The place where Aristotle taught his philosophy was a sanctuary dedicated to the nymphs, hence the name Nymphaeum, surrounded by vegetation, fountains and springs. It still retains its natural charm, enhanced by the ruins of the walls that supported a two-story stoa with Ionic columns, and the three natural caves that were included in the enclosure of the school. On the surface of the vertical rock can still be seen the openings where the beams that supported the roof of the stoa or portico.
The place was already known since the middle of the 19th century thanks to the French traveler Delacoulonche, but the density of vegetation made it remain unaccessible until the archaeologist Photis Michael Petsas rediscovered it in 1964. It was precisely the remains of the stoa from the mid-fourth century BC, and its comparison with the descriptions of ancient sources (Plutarch and Pliny mainly), which allowed Petsas (director of excavations until 1968) to identify the site with the Nymphaeum and the school of Aristotle.