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Greek Philosopher: Theophrastus

Updated on October 21, 2009

Theophrastus (370 BC - 287 BC) was a Greek philosopher born at Eresos in Lesbos. Though he had begun to study at Athens before the death of Plato (347 BC), he soon afterwards joined Aristotle at Assos and Mitylene. He became Aristotle's most able pupil and succeeded him as head of the Peripatetic school in 322 BC. From that time until his death he labored to consolidate and expand the work of his master, a task which he fulfilled with great success.

Theophrastus was renowned as a teacher and apparently was tireless as a writer. The titles of many of his works are the same as those of Aristotle's, such as Physics, Metaphysics, and Poetics. Works by Theophrastus are cited in fields ranging from logic to politics. A close follower of Aristotle's thought and method, he gave particular attention to natural science and botany. Of special influence was his Opinions of the Physicists, which systematically expounded the theories on natural science of earlier philosophers.

With the exception of a few fragments, all of Theophrastus' books are lost. There remain only three complete works, two of which are on botany: History of Plants, dealing with classification and distribution; and Causes of Plants, dealing with structure and physiology. These two books carried the study of botany almost as far as it was to go until the Renaissance. The third extant work is the short and curious Characters, which consists of 30 brief sketches of personality types, such as "The Superstitious Man". As the descriptions tend to be satirical, it is probable that the work was inspired by the limited range of comic stereotypes that were stock features of the contemporary New Comedy. He is best remembered for his work on botany and for his Characters, a series of 30 character sketches of types of men.

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    • Carmen Borthwick profile image

      Carmen Borthwick 7 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      I really like Greek history and wasn't familar with Theophrastus, thanks for enlightening me.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Thanks, Darkside. Theo looks to be the opposite of Carn.... He wrote a lot of stuff. It's very interesting. Don White

    • profile image

      Nancy's Niche 7 years ago

      I have to admit, Aristotle is my favorite philosopher. I look forward to that hub...