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The concept of Arete from Homer to Socrates

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  • Category: Socrates

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             The Greek word Arête is one of the most articulated term in ancient Greek history.  Though it denotes slightly different meanings for different Greek Personalities and philosophers, the common Greek used it to mean “goodness” or “excellence” of any kind.  But its English translation would be “virtue”.

            Ancient Greeks used the word to describe anything in its best form. But applied to human it denotes certain meanings to different philosophers in time.  It earliest appearance in Greek writings implies the fulfillment of purpose or function or the act of living up to one’s full potential. To the classical Greek culture, it refers to the perfection of the male form and body when it reached the age of about 20 years old.

            Homer didn’t apply Arête in such gender specific usage. In Homeric writings, he used it to describe his heroes, both Trojan and Greek alike, as well as female figures like Penelope. It is used to mean mobile dexterity, with special reference to strength and courage.

 In his poems, Homer commonly associated the Arete with bravery, but more often, with effectivity. In Odyssey, Penelope’s Arete, for example, relates to cooperation. .(Hooker, 1996)

            In the Homeric world, the man or woman of Arête is someone who has achieved his/her highest effectiveness. They are able to utilize all of their faculties, abilities and potentials available to them.  Like courage, power, deceptiveness and smartness, to achieve their purpose.. Through homer writings we can surmise the early Greek world view if individuality.

            Homers concept of Arête entails his view of a human centered universe wherein individual human actions are of great significance homers sees the world as a place of divergence and difficulty, thus, the value of a person is measured against individual effectiveness to deal with the world. .(Hooker, 1996)


Hooker, R. (1996). Arete: Virtue, Excellence, Goodness.   Retrieved Obctober 27, 2006, from http://wsu.edu/~dee/GLOSSARY/ARETE.HTM

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