Aristotle was born at Stageira, an unimportant Hellenic colony in Thrace, which has obtained a lasting name in history from the fact of being his birthplace. It was situated in the Strymonic Gulf, a little north of the isthmus which terminates in the mountainous promontory of Athos; its founders were Greeks from the island of Andros, reinforced afterwards by additional immigrants from Chalkis in Euba. It was, like other Grecian cities, autonomous a distinct, self-governing community; but it afterwards became incorporated in the confederacy of free cities under the presidency of Olynthus. The most material feature in its condition, at the period of Aristotles birth, was, that it lay near the frontier of Macedonia, and not far even from Pella, the residence of the Macedonian king Amyntas (father of Philip). Aristotle was born, not earlier than 392 B.C., nor later than 385-384 B.C. His father, Nikomachus, was a citizen of Stageira, distinguished as a physician, author of some medical works, and boasting of being descended from the heroic gens of the Asklepiads; his mother, Phaestis, was also of good civic family, descended from one of the first Chalkidian colonists.1Moreover, Nikomachus was not merely learned in his art, but was accepted as confidential physician and friend of Amyntas, with whom he passed much of his time a circumstance of great moment to the future career of his son. We are told that among the Asklepiads the habit of physical observation, and even manual training in dissection, were imparted traditionally from father to son, from the earliest years, thus serving as preparation for medical practice when there were no written treatises to study. The mind of Aristotle may thus have acquired that appetite for physiological study which so many of his treatises indicate.
There exists a treatise, in Doric dialect, entitled Τίμαίω τῶ Λόκρω Περὶ Ψυχᾶς Κόσμω καὶ Φύσιος, which is usually published along with the works of Plato. This treatise was supposed in ancient times to be a genuine production of the Lokrian Timaeus, whom Plato introduces as his spokesman in the dialogue so called. As such, it was considered to be of much authority in settling questions of interpretation as to the Platonic Timaeus. But modern critics hold, I believe unanimously, that it is the work of some later Pythagorean or Platonist, excerpted or copied from the Platonic Timaeus. This treatise represents the earth as being in the centre and at rest. But its language, besides being dark and metaphorical, departs widely from the phraseology of the Platonic Timaeus: especially in this — that it makes no mention of the cosmical axis, nor of the word ἰλλομένην or εἱλουμένην.
Alexander of Aphrodisias (as we learn from Simplikius ad Aristot. De Coelo, fol. 126) followed the construction of Plato given by Aristotle. “It was improbable (he said) that Aristotle could be ignorant either what the word signified, or what was Plato’s purpose” (ἀλλὰ τῷ Ἀριστοτέλει, φησὶν, οὕτω λέγοντιἴλλεσθαι, οὐκ εὔλογον ἀντιλέγειν· ὡς ἀληθῶς γὰρ οὔτε τῆς λέξεως τὸ σημαινόμενον εἰκὸς ἦν ἀγνοεῖν αὐτὸν, οὔτε τὸν Πλάτωνος σκοπόν. This passage is not given in the Scholia of Brandis). Alexander therefore construed ἰλλομένην as meaning or implying rotatory movement, though in so doing he perverted (so Simplikius says) the true meaning to make it consonant with his own suppositions.
In a new and original introduction, based on the latest research into Grote and into Greek history, Paul Cartledge places Grote's history in its intellectual context, discusses its salient features and traces its subsequent reception over the past century and a half.