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Aristotle's Library and a Coin of Troas

The central figures in Raphael's fresco, "The School of Athens" are Plato and Aristotle. With gestures that reflect their body of work, Plato is pointing to the stars and Aristotle is pointing to the floor. Raphael's masterpiece was painted between AD 1509 and 1511 and today found in the Vatican Museum in Rome.

Before getting to Aristotle, I will start with a number of vocabulary words that I've failed to learn before today. I will eventually come to an ancient coin as well.

  • Protomai or protome : προτομή, head and upper torso of a human or an animal as an ornament or adornment

  • Gigantomachy : in Greek and Roman mythology, the epic battle struggle between the gods and the giants The gods won with the aid of Heracles the archer and the giants were killed. Giants buried can be responsible for volcanic fires, earthquakes, etc.

  • Rhyton : an ancient Greek drinking cup formed in the shape of an animal's head or a horn with the hole for drinking in the bottom.

  • Metope: a square space between tryglyphs in a Doric frieze

  • Tryglyph : best described with a picture - the highlighted in red, square panel is a tryglyph:


And putting a few of those words in a sentence: this 5th century BC rhyton with protomai of Pegasus is embellished with scenes of gigantomachy and can be found in the Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces (VCM)

A Small AE of Skepsis (a.k.a. Scepsis)

The coin is this little bronze coin from the 4th century.

Troas, Skepsis, AE (4th century BC)

Size: 1.3g, 9.5mm

Obv: Rhyton with forepart of Pegasos left

Rev: Σ - Κ, fir tree within linear square border

Where is Skepsis?

Aristotle's Library

Strabo writes this about Skepsis:

"From Scepsis came the Socratic philosophers Erastus and Coriscus and Neleus the son of Coriscus, this last a man who not only was a pupil of Aristotle and Theophrastus, but also inherited the library of Theophrastus, which included that of Aristotle. At any rate, Aristotle bequeathed his own library to Theophrastus, to whom he also left his school; and he is the first man, so far as I know, to have collected books and to have taught the kings in Egypt how to arrange a library." -Strabo, Geographia, XII 1.54

Strabo continues to explain how these books changed hands, traveled into the care of one Apellicon, a bibliophile, which apparently in Strabo's language is someone who doesn't fully appreciate the content of the books. Apellicon had the books badly copied, spreading content that was questionable. And of course - a familiar name pops up in the story:

"Sulla, who had captured Athens, carried off Apellicon's library to Rome, where Tyrannion the grammarian, who was fond of Aristotle, got it in his hands by paying court to the librarian, as did also certain booksellers who used bad copyists and would not collate the texts—a thing that also takes place in the case of the other books that are copied for selling, both here and at Alexandria." -Strabo, Geographia, XII 1.55

There is also a Trojan war link to Skepsis, on Mt. Ida, as the site of the palace of Aeneas. Skepsis founded by Aeneas, and later relocated by Ascanius, son of Aeneas, and Scamandrius, son of Hector (see Strabo XIII 1.51):

"The Scepsian (Demetrius) supposes that Scepsis was the palace of Aeneas, situated between the dominion of Aeneas and Lyrnessus, where, it is said, he took refuge when pursued by Achilles. “‘Remember you not,’ says Achilles, ‘how I chased you when alone and apart from the herds, with swift steps, from the heights of Ida, thence indeed you escaped to Lyrnessus; but I took and destroyed it.’” - Strabo, Geographia, XIII 1.52

Strabo further describes the conflicting stories across Homer, Roman tradition and Demetrius of Skepsis. It is somehow fitting that a post that began with gaps in my vocabulary, should eventually stumble on an ancient library. The library shows up as #7 on this list of Magnificent Ancient Libraries.

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