One evening, after coming home from making his house calls, the doctor made a simple pronouncement during dinner.
Turning to his son, while knowing the delight it would give his wife, he said,
“Tonight, you will join me on my walk.”
The son, perhaps seven, maybe nine, was ecstatic. Many a night, his father went out into the dark night. Particularly dark nights were his favorites. Ones with a new moon but clear of clouds. Those were the nights of stars. Those were his.
And now his and his son’s.
Hand in hand, the father and son walked down the marble steps of the town to the harbor, they crossed over the stone bridge which connected the peninsula tip to a small island, and climbed the hill on the other side. With hand motions, he pointed. They zigged and zagged through alleys, up and up steps on the other side of the harbor, until he emerged on the sharp craggy top of the island.
He found his favorite spot, just on the south side of the island, sheltered from the city and settled into his spot. His star-gazing spot. He showed his son how to be comfortable among the rocks. Then he leaned back and stared.
“Just look for a while. It takes a while to absorb them all.”
It would be nice to think that the first star Aeschines pointed out to his son, Eudoxus, was Canopus, the second-brightest star in the heavens. But what is more important is to imagine this evening. And this relationship between an exacting and curious doctor with his son in the town of Knidos two and a half millenia ago. (2,500 years to us who think all numbers are irrational.)
Of the countless people born and raised in Knidos during its era of glory, a handful are remembered. That’s not bad for a town of which nothing more remains today but a bunch of stones and columns.
Arguably the most famous of those remembered is Eudoxus. He left Knidos in his early twenties and went to Athens and studied under Plato. It’s possible that Aristotle was a later pupil of his.
He had a falling out with Plato over the concept of good and pleasure. Eudoxus believed that pleasure was ultimate good because all creatures sought it and all attempted to escape its opposite, pain.
Is it possible that Eudoxus was highly influenced by the community in which he was raised?
Knidos was the first city (of which we know) to have exhibited a naked statue of a woman. The life-size statue of Aphrodite by Praxiteles is considered the mother of all subsequent statues depicting naked women.
Knidos displayed this statue in a round temple to Aphrodite. It is said that the temple was designed in its round shape so worshippers could appreciate every angle of the goddess.
|The round Temple of Aphrodite commands the highest spot in Knidos overlooking the two harbors.|
Knidos also featured a temple to Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy.
|An ancient column in Knidos which surely must have graced the temple to Dionysus.|
Plato felt obliged to respond to his student’s views. He acknowledged that some pleasure is good, but that intellectual activity superseded pleasure because it could distinguish between true pleasures and false pleasures.
But lest anybody think Eudoxus was a sot, Aristotle apparently thought it was important to point out that Eudoxus was more the sober type. He wrote:
"His arguments about pleasure carried conviction more on account of the perfection of his character than through their contents. Eudoxus passed indeed for a man of remarkable moderation. Again he did not seem to embrace these arguments as being a friend of pleasure, but because he regarded them as conforming to the truth."
After parting philosophically and geographically with Plato, Eudoxus traveled to various cities around the Mediterranean continuing his studies and writing books that became the foundation for astronomy and mathematics for centuries to come. In astronomy, he achieved great insights into planetary orbits, the lunar cycle and solar eclipses. In mathematics, he broke the code of irrational numbers. (I’ve always taken it for granted they were all irrational.)
He eventually returned to Knidos.
|Ruins of Knidos looking west.|
There he became a member of the senate. There he founded a family, with three daughters and one son. There he founded an observatory. It is said that the star to which he dedicated most of his attention was Canopus.
If that is so, then I am sure that as soon as he was able to chart Canopus’s path in his new observatory, and everything was properly set up, and his son was of the right age, he made a simple pronouncement during dinner one evening.
|The main east-west street in Knidos. Perhaps the one which Aeschines would have walked with Eudoxus that special night. And one which Eudoxus would have walked with his children.|
|The Knights of St. John expropriated many ancient cites in the Aegean, including Knidos. This is assumed to be the site of a church.|
|Evidence of a very different worship than to Aphrodite.|
|The Knidos amphitheater with the eastern bay in the background. Phoenix is the second boat in from the right on the dock. Not too different from 2,500 years ago: We came, we saw, we enjoyed.|
|The goats seemed to have the patience of centuries for the next performance to start. Unless, we just didn't get that we were it.|