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The Poets

February 11, 2010

A Philosopher's Hymn to Virtue



Aristotle is a philosopher who I admire a great deal. Last week I decided I'd take up another comprehensive study of one of his best known works, the Nicomachean Ethics (this is something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while now, a sort of back-to-the-basics type thing).

Anyhow, this new resolution brought me back to a poem that's attributed to him- the poem's called Hymn to Virtue (Ἀρετή, Areté).

This is a poem dedicated to Hermias (said to be Aristotle’s uncle-in-law), a poem modeled on an early poetic form well known to the ancient Greeks: Paean.

It's very important to realize that there were several transliterations of this poem, and that, despite the beauty of the poem we English speakers are familiar with, we might have lost some of the poetic parameters intended by Aristotle.

Of course, this doesn't mean its meaning is lost to us- far from it. What it means is that we ought to be very cautious ascribing parameters to the poem that are not intended in the original Greek.*

What's more important however, is that as we read this work we remember it came from the hand of a man who quite literally dedicated his entire life to a life of virtue in the purest sense of the word, and that as he did so, he became one of the highest contributors to the very foundations of Western civilization as we know it- and more. Yeah, I admire this guy a lot.

With that said, here’s that poem below, enjoy.


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Hymn to Virtue

O sought with toil and mortal strife
By those of human birth,
Virtue, thou noblest end of life,
Thou goodliest gain on earth!
Thee, Maid, to win, our youth would bare,
Unwearied, fiery pains; and dare
Death for thy beauty’s worth;
So bright thy proffer’d honours shine,
Like clusters of a fruit divine.

Sweeter than slumber’s boasted joys,
And more desir’d than gold,
Dearer than nature’s dearest ties: -
For thee those heroes old,
Herculean son of highest Jove,
And the twin-birth of Leda, strove
By perils manifold:
Pelides’ son, with like desire,
And Ajax, sought the Stygian fire.

The bard shall crown with lasting bay,
And age immortal make
Atarna’s sovereign, ‘reft of day
For thy dear beauty’s sake:
Him, therefore, the recording Nine
In songs extol to heights divine,
And every chord awake;
Promoting still, with reverence due,
The meed of friendship, tried and true.


*To me the structure resembles that of an ode whose rhyme scheme (per stanza) is as follows: a.b.a.b.c.c.b.d.d

The meter of lines 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8 (of each stanza) seem to loosely resemble a tetrameter; whereas the rest want to express six to seven syllable counts.

1 comment:

Doug P. Baker said...

I love the poem! I didn't recall that one, don't know if I've read it before. Aristotle is a great one, no doubt! I've recently re-started my Greek studies, so I hope in a few months to be able to read this in the original. That would be fun!

As of April 9th, 2010