Heart Views

: 2004  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 72--73

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer

Rachel Hajar 

Correspondence Address:
Rachel Hajar

How to cite this article:
Hajar R. Aristotle with a Bust of Homer.Heart Views 2004;5:72-73

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Hajar R. Aristotle with a Bust of Homer. Heart Views [serial online] 2004 [cited 2023 Nov 30 ];5:72-73
Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2004/5/2/72/64571

Full Text


 What Matters Most?

The ability to visually express thoughts and internal struggles in a painting requires genius. Rembrandt was one of those great painters. The painting (opposite page) tells us that Rembrandt was pondering the importance in life of material success, fame, and power compared with being true to art. Aristotle, the greatest Greek philosopher is depicted confronting the greatest Greek poet, Homer.

Aristotle was successful, brilliantly so. In Classical Greece, philosophy encompassed the whole of science and Aristotle excelled in it. More than any other thinker, Aristotle's philosophical and scientific ideas greatly influenced both medieval Christian and Islamic scholastic thought. He laid the foundations of the biological sciences as we know them today. It is widely believed that he tutored the great Alexander of Macedon who conquered much of the civilized world, and who reportedly left Aristotle a great fortune.

Rembrandt portrays Aristotle in all his fame and wealth, dressed in rich, wide, silken sleeves with a long, thick gold chain hanging around his neck and dangling on his chest. The gold chain was supposedly a gift from Alexander whose portrait is engraved on a medallion that hangs on the gold chain. Aristotle rests his hand reflectively on a bust of Homer, which is simply made and devoid of the trappings of wealth. Little is known of Homer's life but he was said to be blind and probably made a living as a bard, wandering around Greece playing his harp. Aristotle seems lost in thought and his demeanor - the hand gestures, the cascading sleeves, and the shadows playing over his brows and eyes - indicates that the great philosopher was contemplating the worth of worldly success as opposed to spiritual values.

The composition - a triad of three of the greatest persons of the Western world - is fascinating and arresting: Aristotle, the hugely successful philosopher, Homer, the poor but greatest of the Greek poets, and Alexander the Macedon - the greatest military strategist, general, king, and conqueror of the civilized world. Alexander's physical portrait in the painting is almost invisible - a small engraving on a medallion, which hangs between the two great men; yet, his presence is astonishingly palpable. Alexander was obsessively ambitious - he wept bitterly when he heard of his father, Philip's conquests and said, "My father will get ahead of me in everything, and will leave nothing great for me to do."

Alexander was Aristotle's pupil. Did Aristotle succeed in teaching his legendary pupil spiritual values, one of the disciplines of philosophy? Apparently not since Alexander left Macedon, crossed Asia Minor and proceeded to subjugate the known world, calling himself "Lord of Asia." He died at the age of 32 and his empire disintegrated within 300 years.

Another issue raised in the painting is: Homer was true to his art but what about Aristotle? His great knowledge earned him fame and material success but was he successful as a teacher? After all, he failed to influence Alexander the Great, his most famous pupil.

Through this portrait - a great masterpiece - Rembrandt, the great painter asks, "What matters most? Material success or being true to yourself and profession?" It is an issue every physician and all human beings confront.