Definition of arete:
In ancient Greece, arete meant “goodness” or “excellence”. It’s related to araomai, to pray, and to aristos, meaning “the best.” That’s where the word “aristocracy” comes from. Aristocracy is the rule of the best people. So you needed arete to be an aristocrat.
Penelope and Odysseus both have arete
Ancient Greek people thought of arete as meaning something like the US Army’s old slogan, “Be all that you can be.” It meant that you were being the best person you could be. So arete would mean different things for different people. In the Odyssey, Penelope has arete, because she is the best wife that a woman can be. But Achilles in the Iliad also has arete, because he is the best warrior that a man can be. Odysseus has arete because he is so clever, and thinks up effective plots. Athletes have arete when they win the foot-race. Being very good at something good is the definition of arete; Medea’s witchcraft, for example, isn’t arete because it’s a bad thing.
Things can have arete too
Not only people could have arete – a well-built house, a beautiful piece of pottery, and a strong horse all had arete too. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the ideal form of a thing is its arete, the goal that everything is trying to get to. As Plato says, arete is something you are always trying to achieve, but it’s always out of reach: it’s a goal.
Did you figure out the definition of arete? Still have questions? Let us know in the comments!
[…] as a human, Paul acknowledges that it is impossible to consistently live up to the Greek concept of “arete,” or excellence. This is exemplified in the belief that “rushing a patient to the OR to save only enough brain […]
My name is Jakob Gollon. I have a background in athletics, but have recently found a passion in writing and teaching. I am an adjunct professor in South Carolina currently, and I was hoping to be able to ask you some questions about your research/findings on Areté, and maybe even get some personal sentiments on it since it seems to be something that is of great interest to you.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your time!