The ancient Greek word Arete (Arete ἀρετή) generally refers to the excellence of a person or the excellent quality and the high value of a thing. When people drive is meant, especially in the military sense (valor, heroism). So often the idea is connected to the Enterprising is also successful. Arete initially appears as an exclusive ideal of nobility. Later, the concept is echoed in wider layers, especially in the education-oriented urban upper class, leading to a shift in meaning, social skills – especially civic qualities and political leadership ability – come to the fore.

In the ancient philosophy Arete was a ” virtue “is a central concept of ethics . The various philosophical schools of thought agreed almost all agree in the assumption that a successful lifestyle and the associated mood eudemonia presupposes the possession of Arete. Some philosophers even said that eudaimonia consists in the Arete.


The origin of the word is unclear. In the Middle Ages it was etymologically from the verb areskein (“fallen”, “satisfy”) derived [1] and also in the earlier research literature was this etymology common. According to the present state of research, but no direct relationship with this verb, but Arete is with Areion, the comparative form of Agathos (“good”) associated with. In the Archaic period referred agathos in statements about people first and foremost, on the battle prowess of the man who was considered a “good” if he bravely fought. Such fighters belonged to a social elite, he was considered noble and wealthy in general, therefore agathos could also mean “noble”. Accordingly, the comparative Areion had the primary meaning “brave, stronger, (the fight) efficient”.

Arete in common usage

In common usage of antiquity called Arete the ability of a person in the performance of their particular tasks or the suitability of a thing (even an animal or a body part) for the purpose intended to serve. For example, a knife, an eye or a horse [4] have Arete. When people Arete consists of a set of characteristics that distinguish the person and give her excellence. The usual pattern is that of the Homeric heroes ideal embossed seal, which involves a combination of mental and physical benefits of character qualities. The hero embodies this ideal in his life and in his death, the Arete him capable of outstanding performances that give him glory. Aspects of the “efficiency” are practical wisdom, bravery and physical strength. [5] The skilled hero has vigor and perseverance. Its use maintains the success to be rewarded, but it can also make mischief. Homer’s gods also have a Arete, [6] and there is in him a Arete of women is fundamentally different from the male Arete. [7]

The Germans thus Arete when it comes to importance in non-philosophical ancient language, with “goodness” (in the sense of a high level of fitness) are shown. The usual translation of “virtue” is ambiguous and therefore is very problematic because the basic meaning is meant by no virtue in a moral sense (although this may be implied in the individual case). Only in philosophy Arete is considered morally consistent. [8]

Homer comes to just making Arete, the common people it is alien. For Hesiod, however, there is also an Arete of industrious farmers. By this he means not only the ability, but in particular the growth, the success of their efforts, which shows itself in wealth and prestige. Arete is Hesiod not separable from success. [9]

The martial Arete praises the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus , which is particularly important to the readiness to die. [10] The same thought is found in verse, which, under the name of Theognis have survived (Corpus Theognideum). There, as at Tyrtaeus performance is highlighted by the Enterprising provides for the state. No longer the outstanding individual performance, as in the Homeric single combat, but the most enduring in the battle line makes in the citizen army of the arete of the brave warrior. [11] In Corpus Theognideum one Arete-ideal is promoted, the more justice than adel specific virtue in foreground. The commoners (Democrats) who have pushed back the influence of the nobility in the country, a lack of Arete is assumed. The poet laments the lack of understanding of his contemporaries for the traditional Arete. He subordinated to them, they were only interested in wealth. This he holds even for an aspect of the arete, but should not the ability to reduce the presence of possession. Are also important justice, courage, worship, prudence and practical wisdom of life. [12]

In Pindar , the Arete shows in target shooting, on the one hand it is a matter of predisposition, on the other hand, such “efficiencies” and learned. The performance called Pindar Arete. [13] For the poet Simonides of Ceos Arete and success are inseparable;. who – irrespective of his fault – is unsuccessful, has no arete, but is “poor” [14]

Personalized literary and poetic Arete in ancient times was only occasionally, in contrast to the Roman Virtus there was no ritual worship as a god. In the visual arts, there are representations of personalized Arete. [15]


In the second half of the 5th Century BC, set out in Greek cities, mainly in Athens , in the upper layer a broad and intensive educational aspirations contends. To meet the educational needs were itinerant teachers working who got paid tuition. The educational offer of the itinerant teacher, for which the term ” sophist naturalized “oriented on practical goals. It should be taught skills that enabled an active, successful participation in public life and in the legal system. The goal was one Arete, which was no longer understood in the sense of traditional aristocratic ideals, but any sufficiently learning-age has been promised. The Arete, who thought the sophists and their numerous disciples, was verbally communicate. It was about knowledge, a skill that will ensure the success of the sophistic educated and gain a corresponding social rank should. The success that had been part of the traditional aristocratic ideal was to drive, the central aspect of Arete, on the sophistic teaching aimed. The students wanted to acquire particular political assertiveness. [16]

The assertion of the Sophists, Arete can be taught, was not generally accepted, but also met with opposition. The opposing view was that Arete was a matter of predisposition or become acquired only through their own efforts without outside intervention. The proponents of this view argue that there is no qualified teacher of Arete, in marked contrast to the medicine could not distinguish between professionals and lay people. Famous, best men like Pericles and Themistocles had failed to communicate their own Arete their sons, the sons would rather be proven unfit. Many students of the Sophists were the Arete in the classroom can not learn, but were unsuccessful, and many have distinguished themselves by Arete, without having received adequate training.

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