What is a good life? Everyone has their own definition and it seems these days, the differences can be pretty extreme. For a suicide bomber, it might mean martyrdom, murder, mayhem rolled into one. For certain Wall Street bankers and capital market players, it could mean destroying the world's economy for their own individual gain.
I don't think most of us would accept either of those definitions of what constitutes a good life. Instead, maybe we'd look for something along the lines of Aristotle's definition of the golden mean -- finding a balance between extremes. (The photo above is a fragment from Raphael's School of Athens fresco in the Vatican Museums, imaging Aristotle and his teacher Plato in conversation)
Of course, who talks about Aristotle these days? He lived and died more than 2,300 years ago, so how is an old, dead Greek philosopher relevant today?
Canadian author Annabel Lyon tries to tackle that issue in a pretty interesting and certainly compelling novel The Golden Mean, which imagines Aristotle's life during the period when he was tutor to Alexander the Great. Aristotle's relationship with his wife, his father, his friends (who are few) and especially with the rather scary young Alexander, make for an interesting storyline.
Admittedly, the novel is a bit dry in places and Lyon's efforts to bring the philosopher down to earth seem a bit strained at times. Aristotle suffers depressions, he thinks women are feeble imitations of men, and he's embarrassed at his bookishness, especially in a world where the soldier or action figure is the ideal man (which sounds a little like today!)
Lyon, in an interview late last year, tried to explain why Aristotle and his philosophy are just as relevant now as at the time when Alexander was attempting to conquer the globe.
She explained that after her university days, she found herself still turning to Aristotle's philosophy in times of stress. (Frankly, I do the same) One of those times was Sept. 11, 2001 when the terrorists attacks on the United States left her questioning many things about the world.
“I went through what I think a lot of people in the arts went through — I just wasn’t quite sure of the importance of what I was doing, the relevance of what I was doing, and stopped reading fiction for a little while,” said Lyon, who now teaches at the University of British Columbia.
“But I found that I could read my Aristotle because the questions that he poses there just remain so relevant and so current: ’What does it mean to live a good life, and what does it mean to avoid extremes, and what does it mean to be a good citizen?”’
That helped her to decide to write a fictionalized version of the 7-year period in Aristotle's life when, at the request of his old friend Philip of Macedon, he taught Philip's son, the young Alexander the Great.