Last week's Pagan Blog Project post was about the virtues of women and throughout the week, I realized that I wanted to do a 'virtues of...' post for men as well. It's a little more obvious, obviously, but for the guys reading this blog, it might be nice to know what to live up to, if you were so inclined.

In short, I would say that it was a man's job to be positively remembered; to add something so good to society, or do something so heroic that their name would be remembered forever. I don't often quote modern sources, as time seems to change perceptions far too much for my liking, but the following quote from C. M. Bowra's 'The Greek Experience' is so telling that it must be shared. This is a description of the Hellenic heroic ideal, which was also prevalent in the minds of non-mythical men:

"The great man is he who, being endowed with superior qualities of body and mind, uses them to the utmost and wins the applause of his fellows because he spares no effort and shirks no risk in his desire to make the most of his gifts and to surpass other men in his exercise of them. His honour is the centre of his being, and any affront to it calls for immediate amends. He courts danger gladly because it gives him the best opportunity of showing of what stuff he is made. Such a conviction and its system of behaviour are built on a man’s conception of himself and of what he owes to it, and if it has any further sanctions, they are to be found in what other men like himself think of him. By prowess and renown he gains an enlarged sense of personality and well-being; through them he has a second existence on the lips of men, which assures him that he has not failed in what matters most." [p. 20-21]

As men wrote the great classics, it's easy to see what qualities they held in high regard for their characters and their fellow men: a man is in excellent physical condition. He is both strong and athletic, and if the Gods bless him, he is also physically beautiful. He is wise and able to understand his own limitations. He has a good grasp of the situation he is in and if it's a problematic one, he knows how to get out of it again. In order to do this, he must also be intelligent. A true man is couragious and willing to risk his life for his loved ones, and that includes his brothers-in-arms. He is a good host and practices xenia. In order to do this, he must be aware of all unwritten social laws and play his part in them.

He can be found at political assemblies where he will speak up, and at the symposium where he will speak until he should no longer. A man does not get drunk on wine, although he remains at the symposium until it ends. At home, he makes love to his wife and performs the household rituals to the Gods in his role as kurios. He is expected to be leader of the house if his age and standing grant him that right, and it is his job to raise good sons when they become old enough to be taught. It is his job to introduce the child to the Gods in various stages of his life, and to integrate him into society so he can assume his proper place in it when time comes. A man is expected to join in the army, and to be a good soldier: strong, powerful, and reliable. Men are expected to develop themselves in the arts, be it orration, acting, music, or poetry. He is expected to be a good husband to his wife, meaning he must provide for her and the rest of the household in their necessities.

Aristophanes, in 'Clouds', writes a beautiful monologue of how a man should be, having one of the characters, Better (or Superior, depending on the translation) Argument, tell it to the son of Strepsiades, Pheidippides, who is having trouble behaving like a good man should. Better Argument tells him:

"And so, young man, that’s why you should choose me, the Better Argument. Be resolute. You’ll find out how to hate the market place, to shun the public baths, to feel ashamed of shameful things, to fire up your heart when someone mocks you, to give up your chair when older men come near, not to insult your parents, nor act in any other way which brings disgrace or which could mutilate your image as an honourable man. You’ll learn not to run off to dancing girls, in case, while gaping at them, you get hit with an apple thrown by some little slut, and your fine reputation’s done for, and not to contradict your father, or remind him of his age by calling him Iapetus—not when he spent his years in raising you from infancy.

You’ll spend your time in the gymnasium—your body will be sleek, in fine condition. You won’t be hanging round the market place, chattering filth, as boys do nowadays. You won’t keep on being hauled away to court over some damned sticky fierce dispute about some triviality. No, no. Instead you’ll go to the Academy, to race under the sacred olive trees, with a decent friend the same age as you, wearing a white reed garland, with no cares. You’ll smell yew trees, quivering poplar leaves, as plane trees whisper softly to the elms, rejoicing in the spring. I tell you this—if you carry out these things I mention, if you concentrate your mind on them, you’ll always have a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick. But if you take up what’s in fashion nowadays, you’ll have, for starters, feeble shoulders, a pale skin, a narrow chest, huge tongue, a tiny bum, and a large skill in framing long decrees." [990]

While many gripe on the unjust lives of women in ancient Hellas, I'm not so sure men had an easier time of it. It was--and in many ways is--hard to be a man: there was a lot expected of you, and you were not allowed to drop the ball. Heck, for the longest time, you weren't even allowed to bath in warm water.

Being a man in ancient Hellas came with a strong moral and physical code to live up to, and while of course not everyone did so, it were the men who did that were remembered--the highest goal in a society where the dead live on in society as long as their names are spoken out loud. There are a lot of ancient Hellenic virtues for men that a modern practitioner of Hellenismos can adopt if he so desires. Undoubtedly, it would make him a better person--not just a better man. Personally, I would still prefer to be a woman in ancient Hellas as opposed to a man, but I might be biased by my own gender and predisposition towards the female virtues laid out by the ancient Hellenes.

I must address one more thing before I end this blog post: the gender binary is a tricky thing and in general it was strictly enforced in ancient Hellas. Today, more and more people become aware that gender is made up of a mixture of nature, nurture, and common sense, and that the binary is not so binary after all. For any woman reading this, and any man reading the piece about the virtues of women; if it resonates with you, make it your ideal. The point is to become a better person, and I firmly believe--call it that feminist streak I mentioned in the first part of this two-part series--that a person is not defined by the equipment they were born with. We create our own person and while our biological gender (still not a binary) is a part of that, it most certainly has no business being the defining part.