Why Was Arete Was Important To Greek Culture?


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Jon McCarty answered
The Greek concept of areté, which has so profoundly influenced paidiea, the concept of liberal education, means more than mere excellence. It refers to excellence that emerges from an heroic effort that fully integrates all the levels of consciousness within a person, and involves the maximal possible manifestation of one's special talents--self-actualization. The word, areté translates to “virtue”, but to the Greeks, it meant much more; it meant to “be the best you can be” and to “reach your highest potential”. Sometime around 800 BCE a man, to be later known only as "Homer", composed two of the greatest epic poems - the Iliad and the Odyssey.  The first poem is about the 10-year Trojan War and the story of Achilles, whereas the second poem is about Odysseus and the adventures of his 20-year journey home from fighting in the war at Troy. Homer often wrote about areté, using it to describe both Greek and Trojan heroes, as well as women – including Penelope, the wife of Odysseus; it was used to not only describe a person’s bravery, but also their effectiveness to use all of the abilities and potentialities available to them.  The concept of areté implies, through Homer’s poems and the frequent use of the word therein, that the early Greek world view was that of a human-centered universe where human value and meaning is measured against individual effectiveness in the world.  It is through the exploration of duality of the human spirit that Homer better exemplifies areté, how it is cruel yet humane, and that it is blind yet insightful; showing that warriors can raise above the rest to gain great military achievement and still retain a state of compassion and honor. Later on in Greek culture, Homer’s poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey were the basis of Greek education, every schoolchild committing them to memory.  It is in this way that the Greeks came to know the past, and through the past, they came to know themselves.

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