I have been thinking for a while now about the etymological connection between Arete (“virtue” or “excellence”) and Ares (the God of War).1 A similar connection exists in Latin between Virtus and Vir (“man” in the sense of “masculine”).

I think there is something in the history of the idea of virtue that relates to the idea of martial nobility that is almost entirely absent from high culture after the World Wars, or rather I should say that the connection has become almost entirely negative: “dulce et decorum est” and all that.

Here we see Arthegal, the ideal knight of Justice, from the court of Spencer’s Faerie Queene (1590), with his sword Chrysaor, painted by John Hamilton Mortimer (1778).

Arthegal
Arthegal

  1. On Facebook, one of my scholarly friends called this etymology into question. My source is the entry for Ares in the Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon. I confess that am unqualified to comment on the linguistics here and for all I know the etymological derivation may be different. My interest, however, is not really linguistics but philosophy. The entry in the lexicon simply got me thinking down these lines.