Saturday, May 30, 2009

Aretê, a higher idea of efficiency

‘...What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism’, Kitto comments, 'is not a sense of duty as we understand it-duty towards others: it is rather duty towards oneself. He strives after that which we translate "virtue", but is in Greek aretê, "excellence". It runs through Greek life.

Phaedrus is fascinated by the description of the motive of 'duty toward self' which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the 'one' of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the 'virtue' of the ancient Greeks be identical?

'When we meet aretê, in Plato,' he said, 'we translate it "virtue", and consequently miss all the flavour of it. "Virtue" at least in modern English, is almost entirely a moral word; aretê, on the other hand, is used indifferently in all the categories, and simply means excellence.

Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Phaeacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing aretê.

Aretê implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency - or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.'

'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' Robert M Pirsig

No comments:

Blog Archive