Half a million school leavers sat down to the First Test yesterday - Italian. The examination, taken by all, had a number of essay titles from which the examinees choose one and then write for the whole day (the invitation to write on the labyrinth, with excerpts from Ariosto, Calvino, Borges and Eco, plus paintings by Picasso, Pollock and Escher, was particularly fine).
Today they separate into their specialist schools, writing on specific material. For the Classical Lyceum, this year, the Unseen is Greek (it alternates with Latin annually).
Aristotle – De partibus animalium I, (A), 5, 645 a
is offering all its complexity and imagery to their best efforts even as we take our elevenses. They have been at it since 8.30 this morning. The papers are now providing translations, interpretations, profound thoughts (everyone is re-living their own trial by fire, as the whole country does, obsessively, every year in June) while they continue, locked away in the examination halls, but this is a very tricky passage and Aristotle - always and rightly feared - hasn't turned up in the Unseen since 1978.
Here is an interpretation from Merton (Oxford still does Greek), which refutes, among others, Heidegger's effort.
'Heraclitus can be seen in the anecdote as inviting his visitors to join him in the kitchen by appealing to their common archaic heritage, and the way he does that provides a delightful illustration for the point Aristotle wants to make about the study of animals. Just as Heraclitus encouraged the visitors to waive their conventional scruples and join him in the kitchen by suggesting that the ordinary fire in the oven is as divine and hospitable as the consecrated fire of the hearth, Aristotle encourages his audience to over- come their puerile revulsion towards the examination of the humbler animals by saying that there is something wonderful in them as well as in other things of nature, including the better respected animals and, ultimately, the stars which are appreciated as divine and well worthy of study. The wonderful thing is, of course, the purposefulness which pervades the whole natural world and which is the counterpart of the beautiful (tÚ kalÒn)in things of art. And because of that, Aristotle exhorts his audience to forget their distaste for certain kinds of animals and to open their minds to the systematic treatment of animals which he is about to supply.'