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HYMN TO VIRTUE BY ARISTOTLE
Ἀρετῆς


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Introduction to the hymn to Virtue by Aristotǽlis

In our noble tradition, Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, we are taught that the greatest accomplishment we can make in our life is the acquisition of Virtue, to become people of character. In ancient Greek, Virtue is called Arætí (Arete; Gr. Ἀρετή). Indeed, Virtue is the only thing worthy of a great struggle. Why? ... because Virtue is the one thing that truly makes a difference, a difference not only to ourselves but to the world as well. The achievement of Virtue transforms you and becomes a part of your soul, something which no person can ever take away from you. And it is the most important thing in our religion because it is what the Gods want for us more than any other thing. Therefore, to struggle to realize Virtue in our lives...for it is not an easy thing...is the greatest offering we can make to the Gods. And when we act virtuously, we align ourselves with Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ), the favored daughter of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), for it is said in the Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony that she is Virtue itself (Orphic frag. 175). Arætí is the one thing that truly makes a difference and a religion that does not make a difference is of no value whatsoever. The achievement of Virtue is the greatest glory and its radiance shines brilliantly through all history.

The subject of this page is a hymn written by Aristotǽlis (Aristotle; Gr. Ἀριστοτέλης) in praise of Virtue. It was composed in honor of Ærmías of Atarnéfs (Hermias of Atarneus; Gr. Ἑρμίας ὁ Ἀταρνεύς) who was a king in that city and who was a friend of the great philosopher. It was written on the occasion of the death of Ærmías. The poem is a tribute to Virtue, the quality which Aristotǽlis recognized in Ærmías.

Ærmías was born into slavery. His master was Évvoulos (Eubulus; Gr. Εὔβουλος), the tyrant of Atarnéfs, but because of the resplendent character of Ærmías, his master favored him and eventually sent him to Athens to study with Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) and Aristotǽlis. When Ærmías returned to Atarnéfs, he ruled jointly with his master, but Évvoulos soon died and this man born a slave now became the ruler of the city. Ærmías listened to the advice of Aristotǽlis and attempted to put it into practice: he endeavored to rule his dominion as a philosopher-king. Later, he became entangled in intrigue involving the Persian empire and Philip of Macedon. Ærmías was captured and brought in chains to Sousa (Susa; Gr. Σοῦσα) where he was then tortured in order to extract information against his friends, but he never betrayed them despite the cruelty of his tormentors, and before he expired, Ærmías sent word to his colleagues, "I die never having done anything shameful or unworthy of philosophy." Aristotǽlis then set up a memorial to the great man at Dælphí (Delphi; Gr. Δελφοί) and wrote the inspiring hymn to Virtue which we will now examine on this page.


Translation by Rev. J. E. Yong of Eaton College [1] :

Virtue

O Virtue, won by earnest strife,
    And holding out the noblest prize
That ever gilded earthly life,
    Or drew it on to seek the skies;
For thee what son of Greece would not
Deem it an enviable lot,
To live the life, to die the death,
That fears no weary hour, shrinks from no fiery breath.

Such fruit hast thou of heavenly bloom,
    A lure more rich than golden heap,
More tempting than the joys of home,
    More bland than spell of soft-eyed sleep.
For thee Alcides, son of Jove [2],
And the twin boys of Leda [3] strove,
With patient toil and sinewy might,
The glorious prize to grasp, to reach thy lofty height.

Achilles, Ajax, for thy love
    Descended to the realms of night;
Atarneus' King [4] thy vision drove,
    To quit for aye the glad sun-light,
Therefore, to Memory's daughters [5] dear,
His deathless name, his pure career,
Live shrined in song, and link'd with awe,
The awe of Xenian Jove, and faithful friendship's law.


The Original Ancient Greek Text:

ρετῆς

Ἀρετὰ πολύμοχθε γένει βροτείῳ,
θήραμα κάλλιστον βίῳ,
σᾶς πέρι, παρθένε, μορφᾶς
καὶ θανεῖν ζηλωτὸς ἐν Ἑλλάδι πότμος
καὶ πόνους τλῆναι μαλεροὺς ἀκάμαντας·
τοῖον ἐπὶ φρένα βάλλεις
καρπόν ἰσαθάνατον χρυσοῦ τε κρείσσω
καὶ γονέων μαλακαυγήτοιό θ' ὕπνου.
Σεῦ δ' ἕνεκεν ὁ Δῖος Ἡρακλέης Λήδας τε κοῦροι
πόλλ' ἀνέτλασαν ἐν ἔργοις
σὰν έποντες δύναμιν·
Σοῖς δὲ πόθοις Ἀχιλεὺς Αἴας τ' Ἀίδαο δόμους ἦλθον·
σᾶς δ' ἕνεκεν φιλίου μορφᾶς καὶ Ἀταρνέος
ἔντροφος ἀελίου χήρωσεν αὐγάς.
Τοιγάρ ἀοίδιμος ἔργοις, ἀθάνατόν τέ μιν αὐξήσουσι Μοῦσαι,
Μναμοσύνας θύγατρες, Διός Ξενίου σέβας αὔξουσαι 
Φιλίας τε γέρας βεβαίου.


T
ransliteration of the ancient Greek text: 

(See this page: Transliteration of Ancient Greek)

Arætís

Arætá polýmokhthæ yǽnei vroteioh,
thírama kálliston víoh,
sas pǽri, parthǽnæ, morphás
kai thanein zilohtós æn Ælládi pótmos
kai pónous tlínai malærous akámantas;
tíon æpí phrǽna válleis
karpón isathánaton khysou tæ kreissoh
kai gonǽohn malakavyítió th'ýpnou.
Sef d'ǽnækæn o Díos Iraklǽis Lídas tæ kouri
póll'anǽtlasan æn ǽryis
san ǽpontæs dýnamin;
Sis dæ pólis Akhiléfs Aias t'Aidao dómous ílthon;
sas d'ǽnækæn philíou morphás kai Atarnǽos
ǽntrophos aælíou khírohsæn avgás.
Tigár äídimos ǽryis, athánatón tæ min afksísousi Mousai,
Mnamosýnas thýgatræs, Diós Xæníou sǽvas áfxousai
Philías tæ yǽras vævaiou.


BREAKDOWN OF THE HYMN


Ἀρετῆς - Virtue (
Ἀρετῆς is the genitive of Ἀρετή; titles are usually placed in the genitive case.)

Ἀρετὰ (voc. of Ἀρετή, Virtue) πολύμοχθε (won by much toil, suffering) γένει (race [noun]) βροτείῳ, (mortal [adj.]) - Virtue, which the mortal race wins only through great suffering

θήραμα (spoil, booty) κάλλιστον (beautiful) βίῳ, (life) - the most beautiful reward of life

σᾶς (your) πέρι, (for, on account of) - because of your

παρθένε, (virgin [voc.]) - oh virgin

μορφᾶς (form) - form

καὶ (and) θανεῖν (to die) ζηλωτὸς (enviable) ἐν (in) Ἑλλάδι (Greece) πότμος (lot, destiny) - it is an enviable lot in Greece to die for you

καὶ (and) πόνους (toils, labors) τλῆναι (suffer, endure) μαλεροὺς (fierce, furious) ἀκάμαντας· (untiring) - and (in its pursuit) to suffer furious, ceaseless labors

τοῖον (such) ἐπὶ (upon) φρένα (heart, mind) βάλλεις (throw, cast) - such is that which you cast into our heart

καρπόν (fruit) ἰσαθάνατον (like the Immortals) χρυσοῦ (gold) τε κρείσσω (mightier) - the fruit of which is Godlike and greater than gold

καὶ (and) γονέων (offspring) μαλακαυγήτοιό (languid-eyed) θ' (both and) ὕπνου. (sleep) - and children and forgetful sleep

Σεῦ (your) δ' ἕνεκεν (because of) Δῖος (Zefs [Zeus], gen.) Ἡρακλέης (Iraklís [Herakles]) Λήδας (Lída [Leda]) τε (both and) κοῦροι (sons) - because of you, Iraklís and the sons of Zefs and Lída

πόλλ' (πόλλα, many) ἀνέτλασαν (endured) ἐν ἔργοις (tasks, labors) - endured many (difficult) labors

σὰν (your, for your) έποντες (to come upon) δύναμιν· (power, might) - to achieve your might

Σοῖς (your) δὲ (but) πόθοις (desire, longing) Ἀχιλεὺς (Akhilléfs [Achilles]) Αἴας (Aias [Ajax]) τ' Ἀίδαο (Aidis [gen. of Ἅιδης] i.e. Ploutohn) δόμους (house) ἦλθον· (went) - desiring you, Akhilléfs and Aias journeyed to the house of Ploutohn

σᾶς (your) δ' ἕνεκεν (because of) φιλίου (friendly) μορφᾶς (form) καὶ (and) Ἀταρνέος (gen. of Ἀταρνεύς, the city) - on account of your friendly form, this one from Atarnéfs

ἔντροφος (living in, acquainted with [from the previous line modifying Ἀταρνέος) ἀελίου (of the sun) χήρωσεν (forsake) αὐγάς. (light of the sun) - forsook the light of the sun

Τοιγάρ (therefore) ἀοίδιμος (made famous) ἔργοις, (works) - his works will spread his fame

ἀθάνατόν (immortal) τέ (and) μιν (her) αὐξήσουσι (increase) Μοῦσαι, (Mousai [Muses]) - and the Mousai will increase his memory forever

Μναμοσύνας (gen. of Μνημοσύνη, Mnimosýni, the Goddess of Memory) θύγατρες, (daughters) - the daughters of Mnimosýni

Διός (gen. of Ζεύς, Zefs [Zeus]) Ξενίου (gen. of ξένιος, Xǽnios, Hospitality) σέβας (majesty, holiness) αὔξουσαι (increase) - extolling the majesty of Zefs the Hospitable

Φιλίας (Friendship) τε (and, both and) γέρας (honor, reward) βεβαίου. (certain, enduring) - and the reward of abiding Friendship.


A more literal translation of the hymn to Virtue

The preceding labor now produces a new, more literal translation of the hymn:

Virtue

Virtue, which mortals win only through great suffering,
      is the most beautiful reward of life.
Because of your radiance, oh Virgin,
      to the 
Ǽllinæs (Hellenes), it is enviable to die for you
      and, in so doing, to suffer furious, ceaseless labors.
Such is that which you inspire within us,
      the fruit of which is Godlike and greater than gold
      and progeny and leisurely sleep.
Because of you, 
Iraklís (Hercules) and the sons of Zefs (Zeus) and Lída (Leda) [i.e., the Dióskouri]
      endured many difficult labors to acquire your strength.
Yearning for you, Akhilléfs (Achilles) and Aias (Ajax) journeyed to the house of the dead.
And on account of your friendly form, this great one from the city of Atarnéfs
      forsook the light of the sun.
His works will spread his fame, and the Mousai (Muses) will increase it forever,
      those daughters of Mnimosýni (Memory), extolling the majesty of Zefs the Hospitable One
      and the reward of abiding Friendship.


Please also visit:


The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.


NOTES: (Abbreviations can be found at the bottom of this page: Glossary Home)

[1] Διογένης Λαέρτιος Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων 5.7. This translation is by Rev. J. E. Yonge, of Eton College, as found in the book of his brother C. D. Yonge entitled The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius, 1853, Henry G. Bohn (London), p. 183.

[2] Alkeidis (Alcides; Gr. Ἀλκείδης) is a name of Iraklís (Heracles or Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς).

[3] The twin boys of Lída (Leda; Gr. Λήδα) are Kástohr (Castor; Gr. Κάστωρ, "beaver") and Polydéfkis (Polydeuces or Pollux; Gr. Πολυδεύκης, "much sweet wine"), the Dióskouri (Dioscouri; Gr. Διόσκουροι). They are the brothers of Ælǽni (Eleni or Helen; Gr. Ἑλένη) and Klytaimnístra (Clytemnestra; Gr. Κλυταιμνήστρα).

[4] The king of Atarnéfs (Ἀταρνεύς) referred to in the hymn is Ærmías (Hermias; Gr. Ἑρμίας), a friend and student of Aristotǽlis (Aristotle; Gr. Ἀριστοτέλης), the great philosopher who wrote this hymn.

[5] "Memory's daughters" refers to the Mousai (Muses; Gr. Μοῦσαι), the daughters of Mnimosýni (Mnemosyne or Memory; Gr. Μνημοσύνη).


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Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 



PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as 

 

, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.


The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages: 

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek        

 

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