Arete – The Splendour of Greece

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“A wise man’s country is the world”

Aristippus of Cyrene

Arete

Arete of Cyrene, daughter of the philosopher Aristippus, was born and raised in the city of Cyrene located in North Africa in what it now the nation of Libya.  In Arete’s time, Cyrene was one of the great intellectual centres of the classical world, boasting a vibrant academic community and celebrated medical school.

Aristippus, a student and close friend of Socrates, founded the philosophy school known as the Cyrenaics. Pleasure was the only good in life and pain was the only evil.  Happiness was the main dynamic of existence, while virtue had little essential value.  This was a clear departure from Socrates’ philosophy, which argued that virtue was the only human good, relegating happiness to a less important goal of moral action.

Arete was one of her father’s most devoted students becoming a philosopher of note in her own right.   She continued in her father’s footsteps by teaching philosophy to her son, Aristippus the Younger. Known to be prudent, practical and to abhor excess of any kind, she lived the principles of her belief system.  With her father’s passing, she became his successor until the rise of her son and a new generation.

Arete was beloved by her city and all through Greece. And no wonder!  For thirty-five years she taught natural and moral philosophy in the schools and academies throughout Attica.  She wrote forty books and taught one hundred and ten philosophers over the course of her tenure. Her mission was to spread equality throughout her world. Respected, admired and mourned at her passing, her tomb was inscribed with an epitaph that would be read down through the centuries.  Arete, the splendour of Greece, who possessed the beauty of Helen, the virtue of Thirma, the soul of Socrates, and the tongue of Homer.

Arete’s life is a testament to the power of knowledge, community, and shared compassion.

 

“I dream of a world where there are neither masters nor slave.”

Arete of Cyrene

 

35 thoughts on “Arete – The Splendour of Greece

  1. Thanks to you and your short but meaningful lecture, Arete is emerging from past in full light. Best wishes to you, Rebecca.

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    • I am awed by what these women philosopher’s accomplished, especially their ability to teach and share knowledge. They were able to build and maintain a community that worked for the greater good. Thanks again for your comments!

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  2. would have been a tough time to be a woman especially in that culture.

    I posted something tolkienesque on my fiction blog if you care to take a look…

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    • I didn’t know you had another blog!! Just signed up.
      You’re right, it was tough in that culture, which gives even more depth to her undertaking…

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      • From what I have read, women were not allowed to attend public forums during her time, but Plato’s school welcomed and encouraged the participation of women. It seems that Arete had a open invitation to join their discussions, which she did as often as possible.

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  3. I never knew that Arete was a real person. I thought she was a Greek goddess personifying excellence and the idea of being the best one can possibly be. Very interesting, Rebecca.

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    • I must confess that I didn’t know that Arete existed, whether as a goddess or as a real person. I am learning as I go along. I am amazed by what these women philosophers accomplished; and how forward thinking they were. They have challenged me to think rather that react.

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    • I was amazed by her ability to transcend the status quo. I am certain that it was not that easy for her!

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  4. The Statue of Sappho
    This is my favorite piece in the Archaeological Museum. The famous phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comes from this famous female poet of antiquity, Sappho, who was born on the Greek island of Lesbos 2,700 yrs ago. The Greek philosopher Plato called her the tenth Muse.

    Hi Rebecca : Your post made me think of Sappho. i want to share with you and your readers about this short message I write about Sappho on my blog:

    http://linkphotographyblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/istanbul-attractions/

    Hope you like it

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      • True…goosebumps….thanks for the quote!

        Your post has inspired so many of us to think, to analyze, to communicate and to continue to a wider and broader scope of philosophical (or non- philosophical) discussion! Thanks for doing such an amazing job!

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      • And thanks for adding so much to the conversation and to my personal knowledge. What an adventure we are on…

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  5. Thank you. I am a bit confused though : what is Arete’s philosophy? She followed her father’s “Pleasure was the only good in life and pain was the only evil. Happiness was the main dynamic of existence, while virtue had little essential value.” Or she developed another set of philosophy which was closer to Socrates’? Just curious.

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    • Arete followed the philosophy that was taught by her father who was taught by Socrates. The Cyreniac School of thought was the first to have the foundation of hedonism which recognized the the balance between pain and pleasure. My understanding is that this was not a philosophy that sought to gain happiness based on selfish pursuits. The noblest good was to be detached from desire, while enjoying the pleasure when it came. And when it came, a person should accept the moment with enthusiastic joy. Cyrenaics held that ethics, values of right and wrong, was the primary concern of philosophy. Aristippus was very close to Socrates – he just had a different emphasis on the idea of pleasure and pain.

      I think that we have a little of this philosophy when we say, “Don’t forget to smell the flowers.”

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      • Thank you for your explanation, I admire and prefer Socrates’ notion, virtue is of paramount importance; and personally I do not quite believe in “ethical hedonism”!

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      • What I found interesting is the connection between Aristipuss and Socrates. I read that the two of them would stroll through Athens; this is when Socrates would ask people questions to point out their ignorance. I must confess that I am still trying to understand the Cyreniac philosophy. From what I have read, it died out within a century with the ascent of Epicurean philosophy.

        Thank you so much for adding to this dialogue. Have you ever noticed that one thought leads to another and another. A conversation that continues….

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  6. Beautiful flower, once again. Isn’t it wonderful that Arete should blossom so brightly and wise and contribute so much in a culture where many viewed women as barely sentient. (I tend to agree with Socrates on the subject of virtue.)

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    • Thank you so much for your comments. The Cyrenaic philosophy is indeed intriguing. There was a good deal of virtue and goodness in this philosophy. They were deeply concerned about family life and the broader community. They just didn’t believe that you should defer pleasure, but willing accept it when offered.

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  7. I am fascinated by stories like this from antiquity. They accomplished so much. Today we live in a world where everyone is too busy and too tired to accomplish anything beyond getting through another week. Arete wrote 40 books, us, we tweet! 🙂

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    • I laughed out loud at the “we tweet.” I agree completely. The ancients considered their first task was to think, whereas we have been taught to do and react. Not to say we don’t use our minds – we do – but I have a feeling that we have introduced short cuts into our thinking patterns and decision trees. I would have loved to be in one of their discussions!!! 🙂

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  8. Hey, Rebecca, the discussion of pleasure and pain has led me to think of the Freudian Pleasure Principle, and the Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths which lead to the thinking of pleasure and pain ( suffering)….well, one thought leads to another…..Thank you!

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    • You are very perceptive. In my reading, there were references to similarities found in the Buddhist way. Although pleasure was seen as the goal, Cyreniacs were not become preoccupied with it or they were lose the pleasure and happiness that they sought. We live in a global would today because of technology. It seems that we have always been a global world, even without the any technological assistance.

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      • Indeed technology has brought the world closer, but even in the ancient world! It is another mystery! When I looked at some of the ancient objects exhibited in museums, I was shocked but impressed that similar objects (in materials, in shapes etc) were made in different parts of the world in different periods of time, when there was no tech communication at all. I may write a post on this subject in future. Very interesting subject expanded from your interesting post! Thanks so much for another inspiring post!

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  9. ciao! yes, to think, reason and conclude…its all about the journey. just the best post; as are your previous ones. many thanks.
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