Virtue as seen from the Classics
Virtue as seen from the Classics
Virtue influenced the texts, characters and culture of the early writings in one general way that is shaping. The virtues of the people were reflected in their writings. What the people wrote defined their priorities thus their values. For the earliest writing about commerce and politics people who were behind them were reflected as people who values service, justice and order. For the Hebrew who concentrated on religious writings were more inclined with the virtues of obedience to God, faithfulness to the commandments, concern for the poor and the needy and a communal sense of justice.
Virtues guided the very contents of the early writings. They have this defining power that largely contributed to each and every details imbibed in the old writings. Virtues set priorities into people’s lives thus constituting a large part of human’s culture. The article “Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind” talked about how literary writings of for instance, Homer and Sophocles have helped shaped the western mind. When we talk about the Ancient Greece our minds would definitely come across philosophers like Socrates who pioneered the fundamentals of modern Western philosophy (Ancient Greece, 2008)
Another form of ancient literature that was said to have influenced the shaping of the Western mind was the writings of Homer. The Iliad and Odyssey were said to have influenced the creation and development of the Geek civilization. (The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 2010) The warfare in Iliad was said to have affected the real Greek warfare in terms of mindset, tactics and even ideology. Tactical trickery was also said to be an influence of this literary work in the ancient Greek wars. The Iliad also reflected the polytheistic nature of the Western religion.
Within its passages noticeable were scenes in the warfare where the Greek gods and goddesses played active roles in human war. Virtue here resides in the character of Hector, who has a sense of family responsibility as well as bravery in battle. Though he is skilled in battle, his visions are for peace and the preservation of the kingdom and not in power seeking and the search for glory. Odyssey, the sequel of Iliad written as well by Homer, revolved around the theme of homecoming since it mainly talked about Odysseus travel back home.
In this literary work, virtue operates in Odysseus finally realizing what really matters in this world and that is family, peace and justice. Odysseus adventures represent our personal struggles against earthly temptations such as power, wealth, desires, and glory but in the end virtue is not found in all these but in the highest longings of the human spirit such as love, faithfulness, and family. Hospitality can also be felt from the lines of Odyssey since event here involved beggars asking for help and there the Greek’s tradition on helping others was showcased.
With these two very interesting works of art, the author, Homer, still gave room for the readers’ participation. Giving them something to think about queries on aggression and violence were left unanswered. Moreover Homer left issues about the end-results of war and human miseries hanging for the audience to reflect in. Virtue here lies in clinging to what is true and right and just no matter what happens. It is the hoping against all hope and the perseverance to pursue what is right. Hector, Odysseus, and Hector all possess an inner integrity and strength that comes from their virtue.
They act as if they have an inner compass that is guiding them through the affairs of this world so that they would act rightly, do what is just, and pursue the higher values that really matter in this life. They could see through the illusions of worldly temptations and carnal desires and does only the higher urgings of the spirit. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the main character Arjuna who is guided by Krishna who is the Godhead disguised as Arjuna’s charioteer, virtue lies in the inner knowledge of truth amidst all the illusions and circumstances of life.
Arjuna is educated by Krishna while in the battlefield of Kuruksetra so that he keeps a peaceful and serene and undisturbable silent center while in the midst of a raging battle. Here Arjuna recognizes virtue as being in silent and undying devotion to the divine no matter what circumstances one finds his life in. Arjuna will learn to acquire peace of mind and equanimity to do his best in life without minding the results of his action. Thus he will practice “action in inaction and inaction in action.
This is a kind of stoic acceptance of all the circumstances in life, having no attachments and worldly desires except only to fulfill the highest demands of virtue and devotion to the divine. His spirit will learn to undergo various circumstances in different lives and learn precious lessons in the process knowing that the body is only a clothing one replaces as one proceeds from one lifetime to the next until he reaches his highest calling for divinity (Minor, 1986). Virtue here operates as a silent and impenetrable source of strength that no matter what happens, one will always stay on the path of virtue.
If one acts only for the sake of acting and is not attached to the results of his action or to whatever circumstances one finds oneself in, he will act in the best way possible and not care about results. If one considers life’s circumstances as illusions and choose to value the spiritual things that really matter such as doing what is right and just and devoting one’s life in the pursuit of the divine, then that is virtue. In all these writings, it is not only time that has influenced the development of writing for another important dimension affected its innovation that is the context.
The environment to which these developments took place includes not only the physical environment but also its cultural and ideological milieu. Alongside with culture and ideologies lie the virtues that are guiding the body of knowledge dominating the time and space of writing and its development. The values of ancient Greek literature have highly influenced western thinking and modes of action while the Bhagavad-Gita has been a major source of spiritual wisdom not only in the East but the whole world as well.
It may be viewed as a two way process: the virtues influencing the texts, characters and culture of writing, likewise the texts, characters and culture affecting the virtues people are having. And this is how virtues operate… Guess it’s always two-way. The flow of history of writing actually gives us an idea on how virtue is operating on the texts and the culture. When we hear the word virtue, it is not surprising for us to have something “perfectly good” in mind. We associate it with the morally excellent attitudes a person can have. More than conscience, virtue as applied in these texts implies also character.
More than conventional morality, virtue in these texts may also means uncommon wisdom that one can apply even in war. More than doing what is right, virtue in these texts also means an unshakeable commitment to higher values such as justice, truth, integrity, nobility, courage, bravery and family. Maybe the term virtue really has lost its very meaning in the modern world with a highly materialistic and commercialized culture. There appears to be ambiguity about what virtue really implies. Contemplating on these classics, one can get a good glimpse of virtue like a breath of fresh air that is truly inspiring and invigorating.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 September 2016
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