Friday, May 14, 2021

Aristotle’s View of Persian Culture

In his treatise, The Politics, Aristotle’s focus is on the political structure of the Greek city-states, but in some passages he offers a scathing perspective on Persian despotism. Persia in those days was a great political rival of the Greek city-states, and Aristotle, a man deeply interested in politics, must have felt obliged to comment on their culture and political system. His anti-Persian sentiments might also be related to the torture and murder of his personal friend Hermeias (an associate of King Philip) by a Persian general. 

Aristotle lambasts Persia as a tyranny which keeps its citizens under surveillance and does not allow them to form private associations. He says that such tyranny is acceptable to the people of Persia because being barbarians, they are “by natural character more slavish than Greeks and they tolerate despotic rule without resentment.” 

In the final passages of The Politics, Aristotle reflects on the role that climate can exercise on people’s political inclinations. In Greek city-states, he says, climate makes people full of energy and lusting to be free, but in Persia, the climate is such that the Persians, though not lacking in brains and skill, become denuded of the courage and will to resist tyranny. Aristotle’s view of the impact of climate on the human mind has inspired the work of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and a few other eighteenth century philosophers.

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