The Importance Of Arete In Ancient Greece

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What is a good person, and how does one achieve the good life? These were the questions asked by the ancient Greeks. Arete, or excellence, was what the Greeks strove for in everything. In a quest for excellence, the Greeks experimented with new types of politics. Greece was divided into individual city-states that each had their own form of government. Most notable, however, was the democracy of Athens and the oligarchy of Sparta. The driving force behind all of Greek life and politics was this concept of arete. While arete differed between Athens and Sparta, this lust for excellence became the driving force behind their democracy and oligarchy. The geography of Greece did not allow for a strictly central government, and so, the Greeks adapted.…show more content…
Pericles, a key political figure of 5th century Athens states, “Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves.” The Athenians had no desire to follow what appeared as mediocre government, the Athenians pushed for the best form they could find. Arete, for Athens, meant every person had a voice in politics. Politics embraces the reason of the mind as well as the emotion of the heart. Therefore, the very essence of a good human being would lie in being a politically active person. While some, like Plato in his The Republic, thought it weak to give government into the hands of the common people, Pericles countered this argument with a compelling argument of greatness. By putting government into the hands of the people, the people are united and more devoted to their country. Democracy bonds the people together in a way that no other government can understand. Pericles confidently states, “Athenians advance unsupported into the territory of a neighbor, and fighting upon a foreign soil usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes.” This, Pericles claims, is the might of democracy; the strength and excellence of many people rather than just that of a…show more content…
These were all older men who had great wealth. In his Republic, Plato also criticizes oligarchy, saying of Sparta’s government, “A government resting on a valuation of property, in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it…And then one, seeing another grow rich, seeks to rival him, and thus the great mass of the citizens become lovers of money.” In order to keep control of their economy while maintaining a strong military, the Spartans relied heavily on slaves. These slaves had no rights, and even the poor had very little say in their lives. All was given to the freedom of the fatherland, leaving very few free themselves. However, as Plutarch notes, this lack of freedom to live by one’s whims is not a lack of excellence, but rather a more pure and base form of excellence. The Spartan’s may not have valued true freedom as arete, but instead found arete in the practical, which in turn, made them into a great city that was to be
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