Eudemus of Rhodes (Greek: Εὔδημος) was an ancient Greek philosopher, considered the first historian of science, who lived from c. 370 BCE until c. 300 BCE. He was one of Aristotle's most important pupils, editing his teacher's work and making it more easily accessible. Eudemus' nephew, Pasicles, was also credited with editing Aristotle's works.

Life

Eudemus was born on the isle of Rhodes, but spent a large part of his life in Athens, where he studied philosophy at Aristotle's Peripatetic School. Eudemus's collaboration with Aristotle was long-lasting and close, and he was generally considered to be one of Aristotle's most brilliant pupils: he and Theophrastus of Lesbos were regularly called not Aristotle's "disciples", but his "companions" (ἑταῖροι).

It seems that Theophrastus was the greater genius of the two, continuing Aristotle's studies in a wide range of areas. Although Eudemus too conducted original research, his forte lay in systematizing Aristotle's philosophical legacy, and in a clever didactical presentation of his teacher's ideas. Later authors who wrote commentaries on Aristotle often made good use of Eudemus's preliminary work. It is for this reason that, though Eudemus's writings themselves are not extant, we know many citations and testimonia regarding his work, and are thus able to build up a picture of him and his work.

Aristotle, shortly before his death in 322 BC, designated Theophrastus to be his successor as head of the Peripatetic School. Eudemus then returned to Rhodes, where he founded his own philosophical school, continued his own philosophical research, and went on editing Aristotle's work.

Historian of science

At the insistence of Aristotle, Eudemus wrote histories of Greek mathematics and astronomy. Though only fragments of these have survived, included in the works of later authors, their value is immense. It is only because later authors used Eudemus's writings that we still are informed about the early history and development of Greek science. In his historical writings Eudemus showed how the purely practically oriented knowledge and skills that earlier peoples such as the Egyptians and the Babylonians had known, were by the Greeks given a theoretical basis, and built into a coherent and comprehensive philosophical building.

Two other historical works are attributed to Eudemus, but here his authorship is not certain. First, he is said to have written a History of Theology, that discussed the Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek ideas regarding the origins of the universe. Secondly, he is said to have been the author of a History of Lindos (Lindos is a town on the Greek island of Rhodes)

To Eudemus is also ascribed a book with miraculous stories about animals and their human-like properties (exemplary braveness, ethical sensitivity, and the like). However, as the character of this work does not at all fit in with the serious scientific approach that is apparent from Eudemus's other works, it is generally held that Eudemus of Rhodes cannot have been the author of this book (it may have been another Eudemus — his was a fairly common name in ancient Greece).

Editor of Aristotle's work

Eudemus, Theophrastus, and other pupils of Aristotle took care that the intellectual heritage of their master after his death would remain accessible in a reliable form, by recording it in a long series of publications. These were based on Aristotle's writings, their own lecture notes, personal recollections, etcetera.

Thus one of Aristotle's writings is still called the Eudemian Ethics, probably because it was Eudemus who edited (though very lightly) this text. More important, Eudemus wrote a number of influential books that clarified Aristotle's works:

A comparison between the Eudemus fragments and their corresponding parts in the works of Aristotle shows that Eudemus was a gifted teacher: he systematizes subject matter, leaves out digressions that distract from the main theme, adds specific examples to illustrate abstract statements, formulates in catching phrases, and occasionally inserts a joke to keep the reader attentive.

References