What Does Arete Mean in Ancient Greece?

Arete was a central concept in ancient Greek philosophy that held great significance in their culture. The word derives from the Greek term “ἀρετή,” which means excellence or virtue.

Arete represented everything that was praiseworthy, admirable, and good in a person’s character. It was a quality that embodied the highest form of human potential and was highly valued in society.

What is Arete?

Arete referred to an individual’s ability to achieve one’s full potential and be the best version of themselves. It was not just limited to physical prowess but also included intellectual and moral virtues.

The Greeks believed that each person had a unique purpose in life, and it was their duty to fulfill it to the best of their abilities. Arete was seen as the key to achieving this purpose.

The Origin of Arete

The concept of Arete dates back to the Homeric era, around 750 BCE, where heroes were depicted as possessing exceptional qualities such as bravery, wisdom, and strength. However, it was during the classical period (5th-4th century BCE) that Arete gained greater philosophical significance.

Arete and Virtue Ethics

Arete became an essential part of Greek philosophy, particularly virtue ethics- a branch of philosophy concerned with morality and human character. Virtue ethics emphasized the importance of developing moral virtues such as honesty, courage, justice, and wisdom. These virtues were seen as essential for living a good life.

Arete in Society

In ancient Greece, individuals who demonstrated Arete were highly respected and admired by society. They were seen as role models for others to follow.

Moreover, Arete was not just limited to individuals but also extended to communities as a whole. A city-state that embodied Arete was considered prosperous and successful.

The Importance of Arete Today

The concept of Arete is still relevant in today’s society. It reminds us of the importance of striving towards excellence and fulfilling our potential. Arete also highlights the significance of developing moral virtues that are essential for leading a fulfilling life.


In conclusion, Arete was a fundamental concept in ancient Greek philosophy that emphasized the importance of achieving one’s full potential and embodying moral virtues. It was seen as the key to living a good life and achieving success both as individuals and as communities. The concept of Arete is still relevant today, reminding us of the importance of striving towards excellence and developing moral virtues.