Volume 20, Issue 1, 2023
John A. Demetracopoulos
Leonardo da Vinci’s Aphorism on the Aristotle-Alexander Legend: Sources, Meaning, And Its Reception by Francis Bacon
One of Leonardo da Vinci’s autographed aphorisms states that Aristotle and Alexander were each other’s teachers. Interpreting it in light of those of Leonardo’s readings which instigated him to write it down along with providing him the material he needed to do so, I argue that the aphorism turns against Aristotle as an emblematically boastful, know-it-all man involved in undue occupation of all knowledge throughout history. Leonardo presents Aristotle as if he had been taught by the pernicious conqueror Alexander to act in scholarship in the way the Macedonian king had acted in politics and external affairs. The core of this critique goes back to a traditional anti-Aristotelian point in Antiquity, complies with the 15th- and 16th-century anti-Aristotelianism and goes hand-in-hand with Leonardo’s own view that intelligent men (including himself) are capable of going much further than Aristotle in the direction of discovering the truth. I identify Leonardo’s sources and I argue that Francis Bacon’s repeated bitter remark that the soul of Aristotle was infected by Alexander’s tyrannic character was quite probably based on Leonardo’s aphorism.