A Peek Into the Heritage of Aristotelian Thought

'Aristotle: From Antiquity to the Modern Era,' an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society
By Lorraine Ferrier
Lorraine Ferrier
Lorraine Ferrier
September 14, 2021 Updated: September 15, 2021

“All teaching and all intellectual learning come about from already existing knowledge,” Aristotle said. 

Since 335 B.C. when the Greek philosopher Aristotle founded the Lyceum, in Athens, Greece, people around the world have ardently studied the many facets of his knowledge: from science, logic, metaphysics, and ethics, to politics.  

Aristotle’s influence is explored in a recently opened exhibition “Aristotle: From Antiquity to the Modern Era” at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library. Over 30 rare books and manuscripts are on displaysome for the first timefrom the collection of Martin J. Gross. 

The manuscripts from the early modern period in Europe (15001800) are in multiple languages, including Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, demonstrating just how important Aristotle was in defining the world’s intellectual traditions. 

“This exhibition is a celebration of the importance of scholarship and learning. … The works demonstrate how knowledge is passed down through the centuries and [is] built upon by each new generation,” the New-York Historical Society CEO and president Louise Mirrer said in a press release. 

“Aristotle. Opera Omnia,” (Vol. 1, “Posterior Analytics”), 1495–98, published by Aldus Pius Manutius of Venice. Five volumes, in Greek. (Courtesy of Martin J. Gross)

Spreading Ancient Wisdom 

During the Renaissance, ancient literature became more widely available to the Western world when the 15th-century classical scholar and notable printer and publisher, Aldus Pius Manutuis, printed and published the entire known Greek and Roman corpus in its original languages. Manutuis also included works not previously known in Europe, as he had studied with Byzantine scholars and had greater access to Greek works that they brought with them from Constantinople (now Istanbul). 

One of the most intriguing objects in the exhibition is Manutuis’s edition of the works of Aristotle, which he published in Greek. The entire five volumes are on display and contain the commentary of three different readers, who have filled every available space with copious scholarly annotations. Each note is a response to Aristotle, allowing us to observe the transmission and different interpretations of his teachings centuries later.  

The exhibition: “Aristotle: From Antiquity to the Modern Era,” is curated by Michael Ryan, Sue Ann Weinberg Director Emeritus of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library and runs until Jan. 2. 2022. To find out more, visit NYHistory.org

Lorraine Ferrier
Lorraine Ferrier