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Arete in Greek Mythology: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

This lesson contains details about the Greek goddess Arete, including her history and her legacy. Discover the way in which her name, Arete, is used in language usage today.

Background

Queen Arete, in Greek mythology, was the wife of Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians, and mother of Nausicaa and Laodamas. Alcinous and Arete were both descendants of Poseidon.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/Arete_-_Aret%C3%A9-_%C3%89feso.jpg

History

Arete was a minor Greek goddess and therefore very little mythological background is known about her.

What is known is that Arete was the Queen of Scheria and ruled the Phaeacians with her husband, King Alcinous. Depicted in 'The Odyssey', this was a region in Greek mythology that was the last destination of Odysseus in his 10-year journey. When Odysseus arrived there, he prayed first to Arete for protection on Athena's suggestion. Athena protected him and treated him well.

In the Greek tragedy 'Medea', when the Argonauts and the Colchian princess Medea arrived at the island of Scheria, Arete received them and treated them hospitably. When the Colchians arrived at the island looking for the Argonauts and their princess Medea to take her home to be tried for murder, Arete tried to talk with her husband into granting Medea mercy to stay on the island. Alcinous said that if Medea married that he would not force her to leave. Arete went to Jason, another mythological hero, in the night and told him to marry Medea so her life would be spared. Because of Arete, Medea and Jason were wed and Medea's life was spared.

Overall, Arete was known as a goddess of virtue and knowledge. In another early myth, Hercules came to a point in his life where he had to choose between good and evil. Arete offered him glory and a life of fighting evil on behalf of the good and her opposite, Kakia, promised him a life of riches. Hercules chose the path of Arete and fighting evil.

Choice of Hercules

Modern-Day References

The name of Arete is known today to mean excellence of any kind. To follow arete also means to live up to one's full potential. The phrases 'virtue is knowledge' and 'arete is knowledge' could be used interchangeably in Homeric times as well as today.

Moreover, Arete's name is used to describe excellence in anything. Arete of a woman or arete of a research report would be used to describe excellence or usefulness of either.

The term arete is most commonly used today to describe the importance of good athletes exercising their mind, body and spirit in order for them to obtain arete, or excellence.

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