HYMN TO VIRTUE
In Ællinismόs (Hellenismos, 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, the word for virtue is arætí (arete, 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 oneself but to the world as well. The achievement of virtue transforms you and becomes a part of your soul, something which no one can ever take away from you. It is the most important pursuit in our religion because it is what the Gods want for us more than any other thing. Therefore, to struggle to realize virtue in your life...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 Athîná (Athena, Ἀθηνᾶ), the favored daughter of Zefs (Ζεύς), for it is said in the Orphic fragments that she is virtue itself (Orphic Fragment 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.
Ærmías of Atarnéfs and the hymn to virtue by Aristotǽlis
The subject of this page is a hymn written by Aristotǽlîs (Aristotle, Ἀριστοτέλης) in praise of virtue. It was composed in honor of Ærmías of Atarnéfs (Hermias of Atarneus, 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, Εὔβουλος), the tyrant of Atarnéfs. Because of the resplendent character of Ærmías, his master eventually sent him to Athens to study with Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων) and Aristotǽlîs. 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 Aristotǽlîs and attempted to put it into practice: he endeavored to rule his dominion as a philosopher-king. Later, he became entangled in an 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. Ærmías never betrayed them despite the enormous cruelty of his tormentors. Before he expired, Ærmías sent word to his colleagues, "I die never having done anything shameful or unworthy of philosophy." Aristotǽlîs then set up a memorial to the great man at Dælphí (Delphi, Δελφοί) and wrote the hymn to virtue translated below.
The Hymn to Virtue by Aristotle(trans. James Van Kollenburg)
Virtue, which mortals win only through great suffering,
is the most beautiful reward of life.
Because of your radiance, oh Virgin,
to the Ǽllinæs , 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, Îraklís  and the sons of Zefs and Lída 
endured many difficult labors to acquire your strength.
Yearning for you, Akhilléfs and Aias  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  will increase it forever,
those daughters of Mnîmosýnî , extolling the majesty of Zefs the Hospitable One
and the reward of abiding Friendship.
The Original Ancient Greek Text:
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.
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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.
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Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
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