Aristotle and Plato – their names conjure up thoughts of stone busts showing serene elderly men with long curly beards. Perhaps these revered Greek philosophers really did look like that at some stage in their lives, but according to the evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi, Plato was so irascible that he once threw his favourite dog down a well and his student Aristotle was an overdressed dandy who compensated for his small eyes and thin legs by sporting plenty of jewellery and an elaborate hairstyle. Leroi also sets out to challenge traditional impressions of their intellectual activities. He makes little mention of the usual philosophical sound bites – shadows on the walls of a cave or syllogistic puzzles about the mortality of men. Instead, in Leroi’s revisionist version of the Academy in Athens, Plato emerges as an anti-scientific mythmaker mindlessly obsessed with numbers, while Aristotle is cast as the world’s first scientist and the founding father of biology.
As the title of Leroi’s latest book, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science, suggests, Aristotle is Leroi’s scientific hero, the essential precursor of Georges Cuvier, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and all the other great men of the life sciences (virtually the only reference to women occurs when the author exchanges