Test the character and associate with your peers- some considerations…

54) Test the character (Ηθος δοκιμαζε)

“Ethos” is a very important word which means principally “character, nature, temperament”. We have here to remember the famous words of Heraclitus: “ethos anthropos daimon” which have puzzled the scholars for centuries; plainly saying, it means “the character of a man is his Daimon”, some other translate with “character is fate”- although clearly ‘fate’ gives a very reductive meaning to the greatly important concept of Daimon. We can also translate “a man’s character is his guardian deity” assuming that the Daimon may be described as “the good genius of a person”, so saying that the character of each person is a Daimon, his/her particular Daimon in fact. Greek grammar permits Heraclitus’s apophthegm to mean equally 1) that a person’s character is all that the guiding spirit in that person can be; and 2) that one’s character emerges under closer investigation to be a divine spirit.

We have found that we must exercise nobility of character, because, according to Plato “character is simply habit long continued”. In fact, one meaning of ethos is also “habit, long practice, usage”. All the ancients used to stress the importance and the relationship between character and habit; habit and moral character are intimately interconnected and often intertwined with no distinguishing line. In this context Aristotle’s emphasis on habit become increasingly relevant to discussions of moral development. Moral virtue in effect comes about as a product of habit; he lays emphasis how crucial moral “habituation” is right from an early age, just as Plato does when he describes at length the theory on the formation of the character of the Guardians. Mental, emotional, as well as physical elements: the whole of them is properly the character. All of them were taken into consideration by a master, prior to the welcome and acceptance of a disciple. This clearly reminds the way in which Pythagoras used to choose his disciples: “he did not immediately receive as an associate any who came to him for that purpose until he had tested them and examined them judiciously.”

71) Associate with your peers (Ομοιοις χρω)

Tini chraomai philoi”, i.e. to be friend, familiar to someone, to associate with. A very important law is this one, as it is the base of the Hellenic society. To see clearly at once this truth, it is sufficient to think that the homoioi were the celebrated Spartan nobles, the elite of Sparta. The translation of the name ‘homoioi’ plainly  means peers and equals; the concept of Homoioi was designed by Lycurgus, the perfect Lawgiver. Lycurgus instituted the concept to promote equality among the ranks of the Spartiates. The same goal is achieved through the practice of the common banquets, or syssition, to which all the Spartiates contribute and are obliged to participate: contributions to a syssition were used also as a way of reinforcing the idea of equality associated with the concept ‘Homoioi’ because it was expected that all members of the syssition would contribute equally. In fact the term ‘equals’ means exactly this: those who share the same education-paideia-, the same lifestyle, the same pursues in life. To understand even better this concept, we can quote here Xenophon about the Spartan Laws of Lycurgus: “Lycurgus also imposed on his countrymen an obligation, from which there is no exception, of practicing every kind of political virtue; for he made the privileges of citizenship equally available to all those who observed what was commanded by the Laws, without taking any account either of bodily weakness or limited financial means; but if anyone was too lazy to do what the Laws demanded, Lycurgus commanded that he should no longer be counted among the number of ‘equally privileged citizens’ (the homoioi).”

The basic view introduced here, that is also the foundation of the aristocracy, is that people differ in terms of their basic abilities and aptitudes: there exists not a general equality between all human beings, but this equality can be found only between those who are really equal in terms of the above mentioned abilities and aptitudes. Aristocracy is highly justified because the purpose of civil society is to promote nobility, the highest level of virtue possible to humans. Therefore, the best, those who have become habituated to noble and good acts through long experience, should associate between themselves and rule the state for the benefit of all. As said by Pindar: “In the hands of the agathoi lies the noble governance of cities, passed from father to son.” Through this quote, we get a glimpse of an another implicit meaning of this law: the need to marry only between equals: “marry only with your peers”. Perfectly Theognis expresses the concern arising from this point: “The churl or ruffian that in wealth has thriven may match his offspring with the proudest race; thus everything is mixed, noble and base!” As we have seen, nobility is based not upon riches but on character and education: this law encourages people to get married/associate only on this basis and nothing else.

One thought on “Test the character and associate with your peers- some considerations…

  1. rommsart says:

    Reblogged this on Maria Sevastaki's Weblog and commented:
    The true roots of Europe

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