Andrew Mitchell and his ‘effing pleb’ of a policeman, David Mellor and his ‘stupid sweaty little shit of a taxi driver’ — Aristotle would have been delighted at how precisely they matched his analysis of the angry man.
The emotions, said Aristotle, especially anger, alter one’s judgment, causing both distress and pleasure. For example, lowly policemen and taxi drivers would not normally have been anywhere on the radar of the two Ms. But feeling crossed by such little people, they changed their minds about them, distressed at their impertinence but relishing the prospect of revenge by putting them in their place. Aristotle quotes Achilles at this point, who in the Iliad (the epic of Achilles’ destructive wrath) acknowledged anger as ‘far sweeter than oozing honey, spreading in a man’s heart and expanding like smoke’.
Aristotle then defines anger as a response to someone belittling you, in three possible ways: by contempt, spite or humiliation. Now, no one actually belittled the dashing duo. They just felt their heroic status threatened, ‘since men think they are entitled to be treated with respect by those inferior in birth, power and virtue, and generally in whatever they themselves excel: so a rich man thinks himself superior to a poor man, an eloquent man to one unable to express himself, and a ruler to one who is ruled’. Spot on!
Aristotle finally identifies specific situations in which men are moved to anger. These are particularly relevant — when they feel belittled in front of those whom they wish to emulate (Mellor, who had his considerably more able wife with him), those they admire or by whom they want to be admired (Mellor), or those they respect or by whom they wish to be respected (Mitchell).
All much more interesting than bandying ‘snob’ about.
Peter Jones’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Ancient Greeks but Were Afraid to Ask (Atlantic Books) has just been published.