According to Wikipedia, Aristotle lived in the fourth century BC and is one of the most influential figures in Western philosophy.

The famous philosophers that deal with Aristotelianism that I am familiar with are from the Middle Ages. Avicenna, Maimonides, Averroes, Thomas Aquinas. It seems that Aristotelianism was popular in that era, around the 10th-13th centuries.

My question is twofold:

  1. Was Aristotelianism not popular until the Middle Ages? Was it not widely studied or understood before then? I haven't really ever heard of any Aristotelian philosophers that lived before that era.
  2. If the answer to (1) is no (it was not popular before the Middle Ages), why not? Why did it take so long (over a millennium) for Aristotle's philosophy to catch on?

Side note: I wasn't sure whether to post this question here or over on history.stackexchange.com. If it is inappropriate for this site, would one of the moderators be so kind as to migrate it there, I would be grateful.

  • Can you tell us a little more about what you might be reading that might have made this concern urgent or important to you? What sort of explanation might you be expecting and what have found out so far?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 25, 2012 at 2:17
  • @JosephWeissman, All I know is pretty much stated above. I've perused the works of Jewish philosophy by Maimonides and later philosophers in the medieval period; they are all preoccupied with Aristotelianism and full of quotes from more-or-less contemporary Islamic philosophers who also seem to be. I was just wondering why that was.
    – jake
    Jul 25, 2012 at 14:54

3 Answers 3


The biggest contribution to the late reception of Aristotelianism in the West was the lack of sources. Boethius (Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, ca. 480–524/5) intended to translate the entire Aristotelian corpus from Greek into Latin, but only completed translations of the Categories, On Interpretation, the Prior Analytics, the Topics, and the Sophistical Refutations. Of these, only the first two survived; the latter three were rediscovered in the middle of the 12th century, about the same time that James of Venice translated the Posterior Analytics, De Anima, and the Metaphysics. It then took about 50 years for these texts to be disseminated throughout Europe, and it's only in the early 13th Century that you start seeing the strong influence that they had on the development of philosophy in the Latin West.

For more info, see the article "Aristotle in the middle ages" in the Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy.


It is common perception that Aristotle's texts were saved by the Arabian historians.

The rulling Establishment governing eastern mediterrenean by 1-4 century A.C. burned most of the works of ancient philosophers. Only exception is Plato, but I digress.

Therefore, his writing returned to Europe by Middle Ages, via Arabian cultural influences.

  • Are you saying that the works of ancient philosophy were "rediscovered" by the Arab historians of the Middle Ages, who thus popularized them?
    – jake
    Jul 25, 2012 at 14:57
  • Absolutely. This is the prevailing view in modern Greece at least. Rediscovered as well as rescued.
    – p.a.
    Jul 26, 2012 at 7:02
  • 1
    May I also add that Aristotele's works have been thoroughly destroyed by the subsequent rulling establishment. Just imagine that of his 90 analyses of city governments, only one was saved, the Athenian.
    – p.a.
    Jul 26, 2012 at 7:05
  • presumably he wasn't so kind to the others Sep 28, 2012 at 4:10

Aristotle died in the year 322 BC/BCE. After his death, his works were studied by various civilizations, beginning with the Romans, who translated many of his works into Latin.

Aristotle's works were probably studied during the Hellenistic era in places, such as The Athenian based Academy and Lyceum-(which he founded). His voluminous works were probably well preserved in the Alexandrian Library, though largely lost, due to the Library's fiery destruction-(date unknown).

(Aristotle's works were probably also preserved in other Ancient Libraries, such as the Library in Ephesus-(located in present-day Western Turkey), as well as Hadrian's Library, located in the historic Roman quarter of Athens. Sadly, only the facades of these Libraries have survived over the centuries).

The Byzantine Empire produced generations of Translators of various Ancient Greek Writers, including, Aristotle. While the Greco-Byzantines did not further Aristotelian philosophy in the way that the Arabs did during the Middle Ages, they were able, nonetheless, to meticulously preserve Aristotle's works in the University and Library of Constantinople. Unfortunately, the University and Library of Constantinople were both destroyed by the Latin Crusaders in 1206 and many of those Medieval Greek translations of Aristotle were largely lost.

In other words, Aristotle's works, were alive and well during the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, though they were only studied and translated. However, it was Medieval Islam that rediscovered and intellectually broadened Aristotle's works-(i.e. Averroes)

The Medieval Latin West was reintroduced to Aristotle, first, by Iberian Muslims and Jews during the Middle Ages, though Aristotle was also reintroduced to the Medieval Latin West by the Greco-Byzantine expat community living in the Italian Veneto, beginning in the 1400's-(a.k.a. "The Renaissance").

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