The ‘andres agathoi’: meditations on the 24° and 65° Delphic Laws


24) Praise the good (Καλον ευ λεγε)

“Kalon” is a standard name to refer to a very important ethical value, that of “goodness”, so we have to define what is indicated by the term “beautiful, good, excellent, noble, virtuous, glorious”. It is a general predicate of beauty and is used of men, women and things, always with the same meaning. It appears in the broadest terms to refer to external physical appearance; in Hellenic culture, what is kalon is typically the object of erôs, passionate or romantic love. Plato defines the kalon (along with the good and the just) as a key object for human striving and understanding in general, discovering in it, along with the good, one of the properties of the universe and of existence; erôs itself, in Plato, is presented from a species of material love into love or desire tout court, for whatever is truly desirable—and good. The truly beautiful, or fine, is identical with the truly good, and also with the truly pleasant, as it is for Aristotle. The Aristotelian good man acts “for the sake of what is beautiful (to kalon)”: the ideal agent is acting morally, even—if occasion arises—altruistically, as opposed to acting out of a concern for his or her own good or pleasure. In the Symposium, Plato describes the love (“erota“) of a lover as a passion for the perpetual possession of the good (“kalos“).   And in Plato’s ethics happiness comes from having and being good – knowing the Form of the Good.  The fifth and final stage of love told by Diotima is love of the absolute ideal Form of Beauty (“kalos“).   “This beauty is first of all eternal; it neither comes into being nor passes away, neither waxes nor wanes;   . . .   he will see it as absolute, existing alone with itself, unique, eternal, and other beautiful things as partaking of it, yet in such a manner that while they come into being and pass away, it neither undergoes any increase or diminution nor suffers any change.”

“Eu legein” properly means “to speak well of someone or something”; this deals with the very common usage of men to criticize others instead of praising them for their good qualities. However, a noble and right person is able to see the good in the good people and specially is very happy to eulogize such persons for their merits. Kalon often stay also for aristocrat and noble man/woman, as the standard expression kaloi kaì agathoi, “beautiful and good ones” is one of the key-phrases employed by the aristocratic to define themselves. It is the epitome of the Hellenic Ideal of truthfulness, purity, external and internal beauty, nobleness of the spirit and sense of Dike as opposed to adikia, again in a word: what distinguishes a man from a beast. We must always praise and eulogize these highly realized beings who, through their very example, teach humanity how each one must behave, to come into proximity with the very Gods, with the Highest Beauty.

65) Honor good men (Αγαθους τιμα)

This law is a continuation of the one “praise the good”. Aristotle, in Magna Moralia, states that: “By to-be-honored, I mean this sort of thing: the divine, the better (for example, soul and nous), the more ancient, the first principle, and such things…virtue then is to be honored, at least in cases where someone has come to be excellent as a result of it…potential are, for example, office, wealth, strength and beauty. For the excellent man is able to use these well, the base man badly.” In the honorary decrees of Athens, those who are praised are referred to as andres agathoi, the good men: those who have given a service to the State and are thus publicly honored and praised. In Homer there is no better word to describe the dignity of the Heroes than agathos, as Agamemnon often says: agathos gàr eimi. Niceratus says: “my father, who wanted to make me a good man, made me learn Homer”, as clearly example and habit, joined to a good nature, are the means to become effectively good. Xenophon asks Socrates: “Tell me, how can one become a kalos k’agathos?” and Socrates introduces him to his own mode of instruction. Hence the Hellenes, who are foremost in striving for this culture, were constantly, in all ages, speaking of it (agathos) and it was for them, as a scholiast says, summa omnis laudationis. Socrates in the Theages clearly states that in order to make their sons into agathoi, the Hellenes make them learn sciences, music and poetry and physical training; thus the man who had developed his understanding, his taste and his body is an agathos anèr. Whoever wants to see a Hellenic agathos, a good man by our Tradition, let him read some of Pindar’s odes…

Not only this: this law has also a political meaning, because agathos means also ‘noble’. As Theognis teaches us: “Cyrnus, those who were agathoi once are now kakoi; and those who were kakoi before are now agathoi. Who could bear seeing this, the noble ones in lesser honor and bad ones getting glory?” The meaning of the complaint is crystal clear: Dike has abandoned the earth and thus the right order of things is getting lost, that order by which the one who is worthy is honored more than those who have lesser virtues, “now the evils of the good men have become a good for the worthless ones, and they rule with perverse laws.” This is precisely what this law commands to avoid: the honor given to base men (because of wealth or other similar, worthless qualities) instead of the agathoi, who possess inner worth, who have to be honored and have to rule the State.

One thought on “The ‘andres agathoi’: meditations on the 24° and 65° Delphic Laws

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