Nearly 2-1/2 millennia after Aristotle's birth, we now know where his ashes most likely were laid to rest: in the city of his birth, Stagira, on a small, picturesque peninsula in northern Greece.
"We have no [concrete] evidence, but very strong indications reaching almost to certainty," archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis said through a translator at this week's World Congress celebrating "Aristotle 2400 Years."
Although Aristotle didn't die in Stagira, two ancient historians, Plutarch and Pliny, refer to his ashes being interred there in an above-ground tomb topped by a ceramic dome.
For more than a quarter-century, Sismanidis has been looking for the evidence. He found it not in a single, 'aha' moment of discovery but in a slow, steady accumulation of clues.
First and foremost among them: The very public nature of the site, high on a hill, makes sense. Aristotle was a hometown hero to the free citizens of Stagira, who in 348 B.C. were conquered and enslaved by King Phillip II as their city was destroyed. Only with Aristotle's urging, did Phillip -- or perhaps his son, Alexander the Great -- rebuild Stagira nine years later. (It didn't hurt that Aristotle had been Alexander's tutor, and Alexander the teacher's pet.)
Ceramic shards marked with the initials of the royal pottery workshop and dozens of coins dating to the Hellenistic period also fix the Stagira ruins in the right time. Moreover, the location and layout of the tomb testify to the public prominence of the deceased. The site is in the center of the former city, on a promontory with a 360-degree view and a pathway leading to an altar outside the tomb's entrance, where visitors could pay their respects.
"They brought his ashes to his birthplace and made an altar and a public building to celebrate Aristotle as a hero," Sismanidis told CNN Friday.
Why should we care about a guy who wore a toga and sandals and whose writings survived only as notes? For one, the Declaration of Independence might have read a bit differently without Aristotle. That part about the "pursuit of happiness"? Yep, that's the big Greek. He believed the best kind of government is one that promotes the well-being of its citizens.
Aristotle was guided by reason and thought human beings were, too. Although he came out on the wrong side in favor of slavery, he proposed that individuals can distinguish between right and wrong and that a free people can therefore live peaceably together. The purpose of society, he wrote, is to allow every individual "to attain a higher and better life by the mutual exchange of their different services."
But if Aristotle was anything, he was also a realist. He knew Rome wasn't built in a day, and a life can't be made meaningful without being lived, “for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”