shopify analytics tool

HOME            GLOSSARY            RESOURCE             ART           LOGOS            CONTACT

Please also visit:
Compassion in Ancient Greek Religion
Glossary of Virtue
Hymn to Virtue by Aristotǽlis
Heroic Self-Sacrifice


There are people in the modern community of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, who try to minimize the value of virtue; some will even tell you that virtue and the progress of the soul are not actually part of the religion but something reserved for the philosophers, that the religion only encompasses the worship of the Gods. It can be said with confidence that these people are misled. 

According to ancient belief, the Omphalós (Gr. Ὀμφαλός), the navel or center of the world, was Dælphí (Delphi; Gr. Δελφοί). This place harbored the holy sanctuary of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων), who speaks the will of mighty Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), the father of Gods and mortals. This was the location of the famous Oracle of Dælphí and was viewed not only as the navel of the world but the very center and heart of the religion itself. Residing at Dælphí for many years was the writer Ploutarkhos (Plutarch; Gr. Πλούταρχος) 46 CE – 120 CE, who is known primarily for a collection of biographies of notable Greeks and Romans, the Parallel Lives (Gr. Βίοι Παράλληλοι) or simply Plutarch's Lives. Lesser known is his huge collection of essays called The Morals or Moralia (The Ethics; Gr. Ἠθικά). Both of these works promote the acquisition of virtue; the Lives often show the very real consequence of a life not lived in virtue, and especially in The Morals, which is, for all practical purposes, a huge essay on virtue, broken up into various sub-topics. What is even yet lesser known of Ploutarkhos is that for many years he was one of the two high priests of Apóllohn at Dælphí. Now if one the highest ranking priests of his era, whose post was at Dælphí, the seat of Ællinismόs, the very heart of our religion, now if this priest has spent so much time making the point of the importance of acquiring virtue, how can his opinion be so easily dismissed? And he was not alone in his view on virtue. While those in our community are entitled to their opinion, the power of virtue is compelling and its value to our religion cannot be rejected lightly, such that in due time, the pursuit of virtue will be an idea to which those who do not agree, must eventually address.

In the Iliás (Iliad; Gr. λιάς) of Ómiros (Homer; Gr. μηρος), the mighty hero Akhilléfs (Achilles; Gr. χιλλεύς), is given two choices:

"For my mother the Goddess, silver-footed Thetis, tells me that twofold fates are bearing me toward the doom of death: if I remain here and fight about the city of the Trojans, then lost is my return home, but my renown (κλέος) will be imperishable; but if I return home to my dear native land, lost then is my glorious renown, yet will my life long endure, and the doom of death will not come soon on me." [1]

In reality, such a choice is given to each one of us; we can lead a life of mundane and nominal pursuits and if we do so intelligently, we stand the chance of having a long and prosperous life, or, on the other hand, if we choose a life with a higher purpose and if we struggle and achieve this goal, the results can have momentous effect, not only in one's own life, but can extend to benefit many people. The choice to lead a virtuous life is the ultimate choice of higher purpose and is a choice of enormous challenge equal to that of the heroes. Such a pursuit is valid in any time or place, and life will provide obstacles that will prove to be as great an opponent as any of the ancient heroes were compelled to face.

As one last example for this section of the essay, may it be pointed out that the great Goddess of Athens, who gave her name to the city, is called in the very embodiment of Virtue in the Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony (the most important page on this entire website) [2] . If Virtue is not a concern for those who worship the Gods, why would the great Olympian Goddess hold it in such great esteem? The answer is very simple; she and all the Gods revere Virtue over every other thing, and those who wish to make great offerings to the Gods should consider leading a life of virtue to be paramount as the greatest of all offerings.

Generalities Concerning Arætí

Arætí (Arete; Gr. Ἀρετή, ΑΡΕΤΗ) is defined as virtue. Sometimes Arætí is associated with the Íroæs (Gr. Ἥρωες), the Heroes, and the acquisition of Dóxa (Gr. Δόξα) or Klǽos (Cleos; Gr. Κλέος), glory or splendor. And again, we find the term is sometimes identified as the Roman virtus, a type of virility and strength. 

When the subject of virtue is introduced into conversation, students often assume a suspiciously pious posture or face. There is an uncomfortable tension that almost begs for a change of subject. The implication is that virtue is identified with certain prescribed acts of "goodness" as opposed to ordinary or even natural action. And it is also assumed that we know what being virtuous is, as though it were self-evident. And when queried about it, the resulting discussion sounds curiously "christian." But are our preconceptions correct? Is virtue being "good?" Is it really that simple or, rather, is it so lacking in imagination that you could simply follow an imposed and accepted list of good acts and attitudes, and that this would make you a virtuous person? Is virtue the same as goodness? If it is, what is this goodness?

The term Arætí, as used in Orphismós, and as one of the Four Pillars of Ællinismόs, concerns the building of character; the focus being particular to this meaning while not excluding other types of excellence (see the lexicon entry for this word below). Orphismós is an erotic tradition; in other words, it is based on Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως), the attraction to Deity and to the Beautiful, and the interchange between Gods and mortals; but our religion is also based on Arætí, for Arætí is beautiful to the Gods who value it higher than any offering we can render. And the Gods love those who strive for virtue and they stand beside them and support them in their pursuit.

When we develop virtue in our soul, we do not need an orthodoxy to guide us, because it provides its own radiance and is like a great lighthouse within us that not only leads our way, but shines forth to others who have the capacity to see such beauty, inspiring them to develop it for themselves. This view of virtue is in line with the Aristotelian idea commonly called virtue ethics, that ethical action flows naturally from the character of the virtuous soul, while yet acknowledging a role for reason in guiding one's actions. Indeed, the development of virtue is dependent on Philosophía (Philosophy; Gr. Φιλοσοφία), but the danger in a philosophy of reason only, is to avoid genuine action in the world. Without involvement in the world and human activity, intellection is ultimately fruitless, guaranteed to miss the mark and be frustrated in its attempts to achieve the consummation of understanding.

" virtue belongs virtuous activity. But it makes, perhaps, no small difference whether we place the chief good in possession or in use, in state of mind or in activity. For the state of mind may exist without producing any good result, as in a man who is asleep or in some other way quite inactive, but the activity cannot; for one who has the activity will of necessity be acting, and acting well. And as in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and the strongest that are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these that are victorious), so those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life." [3]

Speaking generally, a religion or philosophy which does not make a difference in our lives and in the world, is a religion or philosophy of little significance. It is Arætí which makes a significant religion, and the achievement of virtue is not only necessary for the effect of the virtuous on society as a whole, but on the very happiness of the individual, and this achievement is dependent on that individual's efforts:

"...the question is asked, whether happiness is to be acquired by learning or by habituation or some other sort of training, or comes in virtue of some divine providence or again by chance. Now if there is any gift of the Gods to men, it is reasonable that happiness should be God-given, and most surely God-given of all human things in as much as it is the best. But this question would perhaps be more appropriate to another inquiry; happiness seems, however, even if it is not God-sent but comes as a result of virtue and some process of learning or training, to be among the most godlike things; for that which is the prize and end of virtue seems to be the best thing in the world, and something godlike and blessed.

It will also on this view be very generally shared; for all who are not maimed as regards their potentiality for virtue may win it by a certain kind of study and care. But if it is better to be happy thus than by chance, it is reasonable that the facts should be so, since everything that depends on the action of nature is by nature as good as it can be, and similarly everything that depends on art or any rational cause, and especially if it depends on the best of all causes. To entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement." [4]

The Four Boniform Virtues

Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) identifies four principal manifestations of Arætí, these being the Four Cardinal Virtues of classical antiquity [5] . The Four Cardinal Virtues are:

1. Courage or Fortitude (Andreia; Gr. Ἀνδρεία or Thrásos; Gr. Θράσος)
2. Temperance or Moderation (Sohphrosýni; Gr. Σωφροσύνη)
3. Justice (Dikaiosýni; Gr. Δικαιοσύνη)
4. Wisdom (Sophía [elevated and theoretical wisdom; Gr. Σοφία] and Phrónisis [practical wisdom; Gr. Φρόνησις])

Prohtagóras (Protagoras; Gr. Πρωταγόρας), Plátohn adds a fifth virtue [6] ...

5. Piety (Osiótis; Gr. Όσιότης)

...but the more traditional list is of just the four. We will have more to say about the Cardinal Virtues below.

It must be remembered that although the virtues can be enumerated, they are all expressions of one, which, in Plátohn, would be an archetypical form and indivisible, of which the enumerable identifiable virtues participate. Therefore a more appropriate name for the Cardinal Virtues may be the Four Boniform Virtues. Boniform is an archaic word which has the same meaning as its etymology: "having the form of the Good" (Etym. Latin bonus "good" + form). Said yet another way is that the virtues express a unity: they are all the expression of one ultimate virtue which is knowable as wisdom. Plátohn thought that no person knowingly did anything unvirtuous; it is always a matter of wisdom. Aristotǽlis (Aristotle; Gr. Ἀριστοτέλης), the student of Plátohn, criticized his teacher on the point of wisdom, denying that simply knowing was adequate for virtuous action. Much can be said concerning these two views, but this author takes the position that if Plátohn's view is understood in all its subtlety, it is the correct view.

What is Arætí?

When we talk about the Four Cardinal Virtues, we have created a classical Platonic problem in that we have a list of virtues, but have not defined virtue itself. Virtue, capital V, is the source of all the virtues, but what is virtue itself? 

The idea of the 'acquisition' of virtue is a problematic concept; virtue is not a commodity which one can purchase by means of some kind of action. Virtue is not 'merit' as the Buddhists criticize, the piling up of good actions which assure temporary happiness in a future life; the concern of virtue is not happiness, although its achievement may yield happiness as a by-product. Virtue is, rather, an achievement, and its 'acquisition' is actually a transformation, a progress of the soul from a lower state to a higher, from a state of a narrow viewpoint to a vast viewpoint more in unity with the nature of the kózmos, the world as it actually is, thus enabling one to act accordingly. This line of reasoning yields a proposed definition: virtue is the character of one's life when the soul is in harmony with nature and the concern of the individual who wishes to achieve this is Próödos (Gr. Πρόοδος), not so much as the Neoplatonists use the term, but, more simply as progress, one of the Natural Laws. And Arætí is the primary means by which the soul defeats the narrow confines of egoistic maneuvering, [7] the natural defense of the self to avoid such a transformation, for arætí is more than a private achievement; it must take the soul beyond one's personal boundary if one is to make a genuine difference in the world for the better. These ideas could serve as the beginning of dialectic; they are general and, perhaps, obscure. How can we apply this on a more accessible level?

Another classical definition, that of the so-called civic republican tradition, would be to define virtue as aligning one's life with the well-being of the commonwealth, and, thus, to be virtuous, one must have the ability to sacrifice one's personal benefit for the greater good of one's family and society. This is very high-minded and noble, but how can we implement such an upright idea, how can we work with it, how can we integrate it into our life?

Aristotǽlis and Virtue

Some scholars, and, most notably, the philosopher Aristotǽlis, with whom we are greatly indebted regarding this subject, define Arætí as excellence; such excellence can apply to any number of human activities, the greatest being moral or ethical virtue. This way of defining Arætí has as its goal, when put into action, the achievement of one's greatest potential. Aristotǽlis, in Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn (Nicomachean Ethics; Gr. Ηθικών Νικομαχείων) states a generality about virtues, or excellences, in which he thinks about them as that which makes a man function well:

"...every virtue or excellence both brings into good condition the thing of which it is the excellence and makes the work of that thing be done well; e.g. the excellence of the eye makes both the eye and its work good; for it is by the excellence of the eye that we see well. Similarly the excellence of the horse makes a horse both good in itself and good at running and at carrying its rider and at awaiting the attack of the enemy. Therefore, if this is true in every case, the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well." [8]

And later, he proposes a more specific definition, one which echoes the famous Delphic Maxim, Μηδεν αγαν, "nothing too much."

"Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect; and again it is a mean because the vices respectively fall short of or exceed what is right in both passions and actions, while virtue both finds and chooses that which is intermediate. Hence in respect of its substance and the definition which states its essence virtue is a mean, with regard to what is best and right an extreme." [9]

If we examine the view of Aristotǽlis, that virtue is the mean between extremes, it could be argued that lack of virtue is not so much an ethical problem as a state of illness, for the man lacking in virtue is actually unbalanced.

And if virtue is the median between extremes, and the extremes being 
kakía (Gr. κακία), vice, then the man with the propensity towards the mean is virtuous and he who has a propensity to the extremes is called vicious, from the Latin vitium, vitiosus, and finally the Medieval Latin vicious. It is rather disturbing to read The Ethics and realize that one's self is not so close at all to the mean in relationship to the numerous examples Aristotǽlis discusses, and that should we fall short, we are, by definition, vicious. This is something which should be carefully considered in hopes that we could become inspired to do a good job with our character, but is it even possible to alter and, hopefully, improve one's character?

Aristotǽlis acknowledges that this is a difficult task to accomplish:

"That moral virtue is a mean, then, and in what sense it is so, and that it is a mean between two vices, the one involving excess, the other deficiency, and that it is such because its character is to aim at what is intermediate in passions and in actions, has been sufficiently stated. Hence also it is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, any one can get angry - that is easy - or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble." [10]

The meaning of the "mean" is greatly elaborated on in the book and in very easy to understand demonstrations, along, also, with logical exceptions. Aristotǽlis goes on to say some very important things in relationship to virtue and the individual. As above, he states that virtue is a state of character concerned with choice:

"The object of choice being one of the things in our own power which is desired after deliberation, choice will be deliberate desire of things in our own power; for when we have decided as a result of deliberation, we desire in accordance with our deliberation." [11]


"The end, then, being what we wish for, the means what we deliberate about and choose, actions concerning means must be according to choice and voluntary. Now the exercise of the virtues is concerned with means. Therefore virtue also is in our own power, and so too vice. For where it is in our power to act it is also in our power not to act, and vice-versa; so that, if to act, where this is noble, is in our power, not to act, which will be base, will also be in our power, and if not to act, where this is noble, is in our power, to act, which will be base, will also be in our power. Now if it is in our power to do noble or base acts, and likewise in our power not to do them, and this was what being good or bad meant, then it is in our power to be virtuous or vicious." [12]

And if this is so, we have within our grasp the ability to become virtuous people by our own choices. It should also be considered that beyond the views of Aristotǽlis we are of an Orphic tradition and in our religion we consider the possibility of many, many reincarnations, and that progress is possible, but without the help of the Gods and the Mystíria, this progress is very very slow. Even with this benefit, from our perspective, progress is still very slow. We can see this very clearly when we discover how very difficult it can be to perfect our own character.

Continuing with Aristotǽlis, the great philosopher discusses virtue and vice in great detail, giving many examples, but the below quotations may prove useful to generalize his opinions on the Four Boniform Virtues:

1. Courage:

"...courage is a mean with respect to things that inspire confidence or fear...and it chooses or endures things because it is noble to do so, or because it is base not to do so." [13]

2. Temperance

"...temperance is a mean with regard to pleasures..." [14] 

3. Justice

"...both the unjust man and the unjust act are unfair or unequal; now it is clear that there is also an intermediate between the two unequals involved in either case. And this is the equal; for in any kind of action in which there's a more and a less there is also what is equal. If, then, the unjust is unequal, just is equal, as all men suppose it to be, even apart from argument." [15]

4. Wisdom 

 " is not possible to be good in the strict sense without practical wisdom, nor practically wise without moral virtue. But in this way we may also refute the dialectical argument whereby it might be contended that the virtues exist in separation from each other; the same man, it might be said, is not best equipped by nature for all the virtues, so that he will have already acquired one when he has not yet acquired another. This is possible in respect of the natural virtues, but not in respect of those in respect of which a man is called without qualification good; for with the presence of the one quality, practical wisdom, will be given all the virtues. And it is plain that, even if it were of no practical value, we should have needed it because it is the virtue of the part of us in question; plain too that the choice will not be right without practical wisdom any more than without virtue; for the one determines the end and the other makes us do the things that lead to the end. 

But again it is not supreme over philosophic wisdom, i.e. over the superior part of us, any more than the art of medicine is over health; for it does not use it but provides for its coming into being; it issues orders, then, for its sake, but not to it. Further, to maintain its supremacy would be like saying that the art of politics rules the Gods because it issues orders about all the affairs of the state." [16]

Concerning Virtue, Plátohn, Aristotǽlis, and Christianity

If you went to Catholic schools, the ideas of Plátohn and Aristotǽlis concerning virtue may sound hauntingly familiar. Later Platonic ideas became impressed into Christian theology, both in the east (Orthodox) and west (Catholic). The ideas of Aristotǽlis became absolutely essential in Catholic doctrine as the result of the writings and influence of Thomas Aquinas, the so-called "doctor" of the church, who is regarded as its greatest theologian and philosopher. Aquinas was strongly influenced by Aristotelian logic and ethics and these ideas persist in church teaching and are evident even if you never studied Aristotle. Some common ideas concerning ethics are attributed to or perhaps even "blamed on" Christianity that have strong roots in these two philosophers. As an example, perhaps the best example, are Christian ideas concerning the sinfulness of sex, but some of these conceptions seem to have early roots in the Platonic separation between the material and the ideal world which criticize or even condemn the physical. It is important to not simply accept the teachings of any philosopher, but the issues must be worked out by each individual himself to arrive at conclusions which are true to one's own soul and mind.

Please also visit this page: Compassion in ancient Greek religion.


ARISTOTǼLIS (Aristotle; Gr. Ἀριστοτέλης)

Please visit this page: Hymn to Virtue by Aristotǽlis. 

PLÁTOHN (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων)

On Temperance: Goryías (Gorgias; Gr. Γοργίας) 492c-493c)

"But surely life according to your view is an awful thing; and indeed I think that Euripides may have been right in saying,

'Who knows if life be not death and death life;'

and that we are very likely dead; I have heard a philosopher say that at this moment we are actually dead, and that the body (σῶμα) is our tomb (σῆμα), and that the part of the soul which is the seat of the desires is liable to be tossed about by words and blown up and down; and some ingenious person, probably a Sicilian or an Italian, playing with the word, invented a tale in which he called the soul---because of its believing and make-believe nature---a vessel (ed. Jowett describes this section as an untranslatable pun: διὰ τὸ πιθανόν τε καὶ πιστικὸν ὠνόμασε πίθον), and the ignorant (ανόητοι) he called the uninitiated (αμύητοι) or leaky, and the place in the souls of the uninitiated in which the desires are seated, being the intemperate and incontinent part, he compared to a vessel full of holes, because it can never be satisfied. He is not of your way of thinking, Callicles, for he declares that of all the souls in Hades, meaning the invisible world (ἀειδὲς), these uninitiated or leaky persons are the most miserable, and that they pour water into a vessel which is full of holes out of a colander which is similarly perforated. The colander, as my informer assures me, is the soul, and the soul which he compares to a colander is the soul of the ignorant, which is likewise full of holes, and therefore incontinent, owing to a bad memory and want of faith. These notions are strange enough, but they show the principle which, if I can, I would fain prove to you; that you should change your mind, and, instead of the intemperate and insatiate life, choose that which is orderly and sufficient and has a due provision for daily needs." (The Dialogues of Plato Vol. I, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892. We are using the 1937 Random House edition [New York] where this quotation may be found on pp. 552-553.)

Temperance and Wisdom: Phaidohn (Phaedo; Gr. Φαίδων) 68d-69d

"Then all but the philosophers are courageous only from fear, and because they are afraid; and yet that a man should be courageous from fear, and because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing....And are not the temperate exactly in the same case? They are temperate because they are intemperate---which might seem to be a contradiction, but is nevertheless the sort of thing which happens with this foolish temperance, For there are pleasures which they are afraid of losing; and in their desire to keep them, they abstain from some pleasures, because they are overcome by others; and although to be conquered by pleasure is called by men intemperance, to them the conquest of pleasure consists in being conquered by pleasure. And that is what I mean by saying that, in a sense, they are made temperate through intemperance... yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or pleasure or pain, and of the greater for the less, as if they were coins, is not the exchange of virtue. O my blessed Simmias, is there not one true coin for which all things ought to be exchanged? ---and that is wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice. And is not all true virtue the companion of wisdom, no matter what fears or pleasures or other  similar goods or evils may or may not attend her? But the virtue which is made up of these goods, when they are severed from wisdom and exchanged with one another, is a shadow of virtue only, nor is there any freedom or health or truth in her; but in the true exchange there is a purging away of all these things, and temperance, and justice, and courage, and wisdom herself are the purgation of them. The founders of the mysteries would appear to have had a real meaning, and were not talking nonsense when they intimate in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will lie in a slough (ed. in the mud), but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the Gods. For 'many,' as they say in the mysteries, 'are the thyrsus-bearers, but few are the mystics,' ---meaning, as I interpret the words, 'the true philosophers.' (The Dialogues of Plato Vol. I, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892. We are using the 1937 Random House edition [New York] where this quotation may be found on pp. 452-453.)

XǼNOPHÓHN (Xenophon; Gr. Ξενοφῶν)

Memorabilia Book II, Chapter 1.21-34:

The Apoloyía (Apology; Gr. Ἀπολογία) of Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων), is very well known. In this work, Sohkrátis (Socrates; Gr. Σωκράτης) defends himself before the Athenian jury which condemned him to death. Lesser known is the work of Xænophóhn called the Apomnimonévmata (Gr. Ἀπομνημονεύματα) or MemorabiliaXænophóhn was also pupil of Sohkrátis, and this work is his own apology or defense of his teacher, giving many examples of the virtuous life Sohkrátis had led. In the passage below, Sohkrátis recalls a myth of Iraklís (Heracles or Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς) told by his friend, the philosopher and sophist Pródikos (Prodicus; Gr. Πρόδικος). (The slur against homosexuality in section 30 is unfortunate, but part of the quotation, so while offensive, it would be dishonest to omit it. Perhaps it was a flourish added by Xænophóhn to embellish the text, expressing more his own opinion than that of his teacher or even Pródikos.)

[21] Aye, and Prodicus the wise expresses himself to the like effect concerning Virtue in the essay ‘On Heracles’ that he recites to throngs of listeners. This, so far as I remember, is how he puts it:

“When Heracles was passing from boyhood to youth's estate, wherein the young, now becoming their own masters, show whether they will approach life by the path of virtue or the path of vice, [22] he went out into a quiet place, and sat pondering which road to take. And there appeared two women of great stature making towards him. The one was fair to see and of high bearing; and her limbs were adorned with purity, her eyes with modesty; sober was her figure, and her robe was white. The other was plump and soft, with high feeding. Her face was made up to heighten its natural white and pink, her figure to exaggerate her height. Open-eyed was she; and dressed so as to disclose all her charms. Now she eyed herself; anon looked whether any noticed her; and often stole a glance at her own shadow.

[23]  “When they drew nigh to Heracles, the first pursued the even tenor of her way: but the other, all eager to outdo her, ran to meet him, crying: ‘Heracles, I see that you are in doubt which path to take towards life. Make me your friend; follow me, and I will lead you along the pleasantest and easiest road. You shall taste all the sweets of life; and hardship you shall never know. [24] First, of wars and worries you shall not think, but shall ever be considering what choice food or drink you can find, what sight or sound will delight you, what touch or perfume; what tender love can give you most joy, what bed the softest slumbers; and how to come by all these pleasures with least trouble. [25] And should there arise misgiving that lack of means may stint your enjoyments, never fear that I may lead you into winning them by toil and anguish of body and soul. Nay; you shall have the fruits of others' toil, and refrain from nothing that can bring you gain. For to my companions I give authority to pluck advantage where they will.’

[26] “Now when Heracles heard this, he asked, ‘Lady, pray what is your name?’

“‘My friends call me Happiness,’ she said, ‘but among those that hate me I am nicknamed Vice.’

[27]  “Meantime the other had drawn near, and she said: ‘I, too, am come to you, Heracles: I know your parents and I have taken note of your character during the time of your education. Therefore I hope that, if you take the road that leads to me, you will turn out a right good doer of high and noble deeds, and I shall be yet more highly honoured and more illustrious for the blessings I bestow. But I will not deceive you by a pleasant prelude: I will rather tell you truly the things that are, as the Gods have ordained them. [28] For of all things good and fair, the Gods give nothing to man without toil and effort. If you want the favour of the Gods, you must worship the Gods: if you desire the love of friends, you must do good to your friends: if you covet honour from a city, you must aid that city: if you are fain to win the admiration of all Hellas for virtue, you must strive to do good to Hellas: if you want land to yield you fruits in abundance, you must cultivate that land: if you are resolved to get wealth from flocks, you must care for those flocks: if you essay to grow great through war and want power to liberate your friends and subdue your foes, you must learn the arts of war from those who know them and must practice their right use: and if you want your body to be strong, you must accustom your body to be the servant of your mind, and train it with toil and sweat.’

[29] “And Vice, as Prodicus tells, answered and said: ‘Heracles, mark you how hard and long is that road to joy, of which this woman tells? but I will lead you by a short and easy road to happiness.’

[30] “And Virtue said: ‘What good thing is thine, poor wretch, or what pleasant thing dost thou know, if thou wilt do nought to win them? Thou dost not even tarry for the desire of pleasant things, but fillest thyself with all things before thou desirest them, eating before thou art hungry, drinking before thou art thirsty, getting thee cooks, to give zest to eating, buying thee costly wines and running to and fro in search of snow in summer, to give zest to drinking; to soothe thy slumbers it is not enough for thee to buy soft coverlets, but thou must have frames for thy beds. For not toil, but the tedium of having nothing to do, makes thee long for sleep. Thou dost rouse lust by many a trick, when there is no need, using men as women: thus thou trainest thy friends, waxing wanton by night, consuming in sleep the best hours of day. [31] Immortal art thou, yet the outcast of the Gods, the scorn of good men. Praise, sweetest of all things to hear, thou hearest not: the sweetest of all sights thou beholdest not, for never yet hast thou beheld a good work wrought by thyself. Who will believe what thou dost say? who will grant what thou dost ask? Or what sane man will dare join thy throng? While thy votaries are young their bodies are weak, when they wax old, their souls are without sense; idle and sleek they thrive in youth, withered and weary they journey through old age, and their past deeds bring them shame, their present deeds distress. Pleasure they ran through in their youth: hardship they laid up for their old age. [32] But I company with Gods and good men, and no fair deed of God or man is done without my aid. I am first in honour among the Gods and among men that are akin to me: to craftsmen a beloved fellow-worker, to masters a faithful guardian of the house, to servants a kindly protector: good helpmate in the toils of peace, staunch ally in the deeds of war, best partner in friendship. [33] To my friends meat and drink bring sweet and simple enjoyment: for they wait till they crave them. And a sweeter sleep falls on them than on idle folk: they are not vexed at awaking from it, nor for its sake do they neglect to do their duties. The young rejoice to win the praise of the old; the elders are glad to be honoured by the young; with joy they recall their deeds past, and their present well-doing is joy to them, for through me they are dear to the Gods, lovely to friends, precious to their native land. And when comes the appointed end, they lie not forgotten and dishonoured, but live on, sung and remembered for all time. O Heracles, thou son of goodly parents, if thou wilt labour earnestly on this wise, thou mayest have for thine own the most blessed happiness.’

[34] “Such, in outline, is Prodicus' story of the training of Heracles by Virtue; only he has clothed the thoughts in even finer phrases than I have done now. But anyhow, Aristippus, it were well that you should think on these things and try to show some regard for the life that lies before you.”

Xænophóhn (Xenophon; Gr. Ξενοφῶν) Apomnimonéfmata (Memorabilia; Gr. Ἀπομνημονεύματα) 2.1.21-34, trans. E. C. Marchant, 1923. We are using the 2002 edition entitled Xenophon IV: Memorabilia and Oeconomicus, published by Harvard Univ. Press [Cambridge, MA USA and London, England], where this quotation may be found on pp. 95-103.)

"Badness can be got easily and in shoals: the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the Gods have placed the sweat of our brows: long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach, though before that she was hard." (Isíodos Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι [Works and Days] 287-292, trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, 1914.)

Please visit this page for an extensive dictionary of terms related to Virtue: Glossary of Virtue.

A list of abbreviations can be found on this page: GLOSSARY HOME.

[1] Ómiros (Homer; Gr. Ὅμηρος) Iliás (Iliad; Gr. Ἰλιάς) 9.410-416, trans. A. T. Murray, revised by William F. Wyatt, 1924. We are using the 2003 reprint entitled Homer Iliad I, published by Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, Mass. USA and London, England UK), Loeb Classical Library 170, where this quotation may be found on p. 425.

[2] Otto Kern Orphic Fragment 175.

[3] Aristotǽlis (Aristotle; Ἀριστοτέλης) Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn (Nicomachean Ethics; Gr. Ηθικών Νικομαχείων) Book 1, Section 8, 1098b30-1099a5, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[4] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 1, Section 9, 1099b9-24, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[5] See Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) Νόμοι (Laws) 964b, Πολιτεία (Republic) 427e, Πρωταγόρας (Protagoras) 330.

[6] Plátohn Prohtagóras (Protagoras; Gr. Πρωταγόρας) 330b. 

[7] When we talk about ego, we are not talking about the Freudian ego, but, rather, the ordinary meaning of the word, being a distorted and over-inflated concept of the self.

[8] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 2, Section 6, 1106a15-23, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[9] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 2, Section 6, 1106b36-1107a7, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908. Of course this definition poses another problem, that the mean, and, necessarily, virtue itself, cannot be defined but by a relativity.

[10] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 2, Section 9, 1109a20-29, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[11] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 3, Section 3, 1113a10-13, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[12] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 3, Section 5, 1113b2-14, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[13] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 3, Section 7, 1116a10-12, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[14] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 3, Section 10, 1117b25-26, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[15] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 5, Section 3, 1131a10-28, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

[16] Aristotǽlis Ithikhóhn Nikomakheiohn Book 6, Section 13, 1144b30-1145a11, trans. W. D. Ross, 1908.

The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The 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, you will find fascinating stories. These narratives are known as mythology, 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 often 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: 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: 

PHOTO COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: The many pages of this website incorporate images, some created by the author, but many obtained from outside sources. To find out more information about these images and why this website can use them, visit this link: Photo Copyright Information

DISCLAIMER: The inclusion of images, quotations, and links from outside sources does not in any way imply agreement (or disagreement), approval (or disapproval) with the views of by the external sources from which they were obtained.

Further, the inclusion of images, quotations, and links from outside sources does not in any way imply agreement (or disagreement), approval (or disapproval) by of the contents or views of any external sources from which they were obtained.

For more information:

For answers to many questions: Hellenismos FAQ

© 2010 by  All Rights Reserved.

HOME            GLOSSARY            RESOURCE             ART           LOGOS            CONTACT