Q&A: The Golden Mean (Book, Annabel Lyon, 2009)

A bust of Aristotle.
A bust of Aristotle.

Hello everyone! While I do have a (hopefully) very interesting post on a Soviet propaganda film in the works, which I hope to get on the site by next week, and I may get another full post out on the weekend, today I am going to do a second post on The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon. I am doing this post because I was asked several questions about my first post, which I have done my best to answer here. So, with no further delays, here we go. Because this is a long one, continue past the link to see more.

Question 1: What were attitudes on slavery like in Ancient Macedonia and Athens?

This is an interesting question. For part of the answer, the writings of Aristotle himself (from The Politics) will do. Aristotle says “that some should rule and others should be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient”, and proceeds to apply that principle to both the relations of master and slave and to the relations of husband and wife.[1] Furthermore, he says that slaves are the “lower sort” and “it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master”.[2] Now, admittedly, the views of one philosopher cannot be taken to represent those of the societies in which he lived as a whole- keeping in mind that Aristotle, who was born in Macedon but spent his early adulthood studying under Plato in Athens, perhaps represents an equal share of each- but these quotes allow for a fairly good idea to be formed.

In Athens itself, slaves were typically acquired in combat, of which there was no shortage, and mainly utilized for domestic labour (where they would be under the authority of the female head of house, one of the few actual responsibilities Athenians allowed women to undertake), or the silver mines, where working conditions were frequently deadly and certainly unpleasant.[3]

Less information on the pre-Alexander role of slavery in Macedonian society is readily available, but it can be ascertained that it was present under Alexander and that it continued to be present in the Hellenistic world once Macedonians had culturally unified it, though little appears to have changed from the Greek model.[4] The former point is demonstrated by the fates of Thebes and Tyre, two cities which displeased Alexander; in each, any citizens who survived the conquest were sold into slavery.[5]

Question 2: How large, in real life, are the distances travelled in the book?

This question is much simpler to answer than the first. Two journeys are mainly discussed in the book: the first, from Atarneus to Lesbos and then to Pella, and the second, from Pella to Chaeronea, where the Athenians were defeated.

Ancient Greek trireme.

The first journey would have comprised approximately 693 kilometres, which Google Maps estimates would have taken about 140 hours to complete (or twenty days assuming a reasonable walking pace and number of hours each day) if they walked the whole way. In fact, in both history and the book, there was a two-year sojourn on Lesbos; from there, a trireme would have taken about 17 days including the ship and walking portions (a trireme has a rowing speed of approximately twenty-two kilometres an hour, and the trip is four hundred kilometres long).[6][7]

The second was about 350 kilometres long and would have taken 73 hours to make the trip; an army marching in a disciplined style could therefore likely make it in just under seven days.

Question 3: Did Phillip II of Macedon and Aristotle actually grow up together?

There is no direct evidence one way or another that I could find on this matter, meaning this acquaintance was likely an invention of Lyon’s; however, Aristotle’s father is described as being a “friend” to King Amyntas II, the father of Phillip, so this conjecture is not unlikely to be accurate; the two would likely have at least known one another.[8]

Question 4: Is there any evidence for Aristotle having a mental illness of any description, as was hinted at in the book?

There is no evidence of this that I could find, but I also do not have access to a full-length biography of Aristotle at the moment; if anyone has such evidence, please let me know. In absence of said evidence, however, it is safest to assume that the mental illness hinted at in the book was also an invention of Lyon to make the character of Aristotle appear more human.

Coin Philip II
A coin of Philip II of Macedonia.

Question 5: Did Phillip actually destroy Aristotle’s birthplace and then rebuild it?

Yes, this is exactly what happened; it was even rebuilt in honour of Aristotle.[9]


1 Fordham University, Ancient History Sourcebook. “Documents on Greek Slavery, c. 750-330 BCE).” Last modified August 1998.


2 Fordham University, Ancient History Sourcebook. “Documents on Greek Slavery, c. 750-330 BCE).” Last modified August 1998.


3 Bronx High School of Science. “Economy and Society in Classical Greece.” Last modified 1998.


4 Suffolk County Community College. “The Significance of the Hellenistic Era.” n.d.


5 San Jose State University. “Alexander of Macedonia.” n.d.


6 Pat’s Boating in Canada. “Boat Speed Conversion.” Last modified July 2015.


7 Catholic University of America. “Ancient Galleys.” Last modified 1998.


8 Caroll College. “Aristotle: Life.” n.d.


9 Tufts University, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854). “STAGEIRA or STAGEIRUS.” Last modified 1854.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *