Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Offsite Post: ‘Of Arete, Football, and Monks’


The ancient Greeks had a word for ‘excellence’ that was very special to them:  arete (said ah-ree-tee).  One fellow, Dr. Mike Greenberg, describes it in these words:

The idea of arete in Greek philosophy is one that is difficult to translate for modern audiences. In simple terms, it could be translated as excellence or superior virtue. . . . For mankind, arete was the pinnacle of virtue and achievement. Whether it was strength in battle or loyalty to one’s spouse, arete was associated with being at one’s best. But someone would not be a person of arete just through a few favorable actions. True arete came from a lifetime of excellence in all areas of life. . . . A single act of virtue was not enough to be a person of excellence, but rather a lifetime of achievement was needed. In early Greek philosophy particularly, only the most truly exceptional people were described as having arete. These people were thought to have reached their full potential. Their bodies, minds, and souls were as close to perfect as was possible. The idea of excellence also depended on who or what it was being applied to. The heroes were men of arete for their courage, strength, and devotion to the gods, while Penelope was a woman of arete for her unwavering devotion to Odysseus. . . . In all these cases, arete was achieved by fulfilling a purpose and ideal not just once, but over the course of a lifetime.

Dixie has always been a place with a special reverence for the classical inheritance of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  It is no great surprise, then, that such a fiery passion for football has grown up here at the South.  It represents, in part, our own desire for arete, for excellence – in the conditioning and shaping of the body, in valor, in skillful coaching, in overcoming adversity; in cheering, in loyalty, in mascots, in the gameday cooking; and so on.

Southern arete on the football field is unmistakable:

There can be little doubt that college football in the 21st century has belonged to the West Division of the SEC.


The Deep South’s corner of the college football world has had a hand in a staggering 10 of the 23 national titles given out since 2000—six for Alabama, three for LSU and one for Auburn. Each of the division’s other four members—ArkansasMississippi StateMississippi and Texas A&M—has appeared in at least one New Year’s Six-equivalent bowl game as well.


That’s what makes the statistic shared by Josh Dubow of the Associated Press on Saturday evening so staggering: 2023 is the first year since 2002 in which every SEC West team has incurred a loss before October.


The division’s final remaining unbeaten team, the No. 15 Rebels, lost 24-10 to the No. 13 Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon.


In 2002, the SEC West’s head coaches included Nick Saban at LSU, future U.S. senator Tommy Tuberville at Auburn and Dennis Franchione at Alabama. The Razorbacks won the division, but lost 30-3 to Georgia in the conference championship game.

But as we are seeing with the rising rates of criminality among athletes, from high school on up, athletic training does not impart everything necessary for a virtuous life, which is the only kind of life worth living:

With football action officially back, the NFL would love nothing more than to sweep all the off-field issues of its players under the rug and lure the focus of fans back to the gridiron. And frankly, after an offseason full of mind-numbing Deflategate coverage, so would we.


However, if there was one thing Deflategate accomplished, it was drawing the media’s attention away from the all the real legal troubles NFL players ran into. And boy, was there a lot of that.


In 2015 alone, there have been 31 NFL players arrested, including six instances of domestic violence, five DUIs, three guns/weapons charges, and one shocking case of animal abuse, which featured former Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo killing his ex-girlfriend’s five-pound dog out of “self-defense.” Atlanta released Shembo once the story broke, but now that he’s taken a plea deal, the Falcons are considering bringing him back. Keep in mind that when Shembo was a student at Notre Dame, he also allegedly sexually assaulted a student at nearby St. Mary’s College who killed herself two weeks after the incident.


So, forgive us if we think that crime in the NFL hasn’t quite gotten the coverage it’s deserved this year.


According to the USA Today database used to create our interactive NFL Arrests topic, 132 NFL players have been arrested multiple times since 2000. Aldon Smith became the latest player to add to his criminal record in late August, when he was arrested on his third DUI charge.


While some of these are more serious than others, it’s still difficult to comprehend why these millionaires would compromise their lucrative careers by breaking the law multiple times. Then again, while the NFL is worried about how inflated its balls are, many of these players go unpunished by the league for their transgressions.

There is something more that is needed to bring people to their fullest potential, to the highest arete, the highest excellence.  We find that intangible factor in religion, particularly Christianity, and most particularly in the monks and nuns who have given up everything earthly for the sake of union with God.  Their striving for this spiritual arete is even more arduous than the football player’s weekly practice routine.  A recent Greek saint of the Orthodox Church, St. Joseph the Hesychast, who reposed in 1959, offers a wonderful example:

 . . .

The rest may be read here


Or here



Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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