VIRTUS

"VIRTUE, MANLINESS;
STRENGTH IN THE FACE
OF ADVERSITY"


Rome at its beginning was primarily and agricultural and martial culture. As a result, the earliest Romans stressed simplicity, strength, and toughness, which are all requirements of both the agricultural and martial lifestyles. What is anomalous about Roman society is that, even after Rome became not only urbanized, but downright cosmopolitan, Romans still looked back to their agricultural beginnings as defining the essential character of Romanness. As a result, one of the principal cultural values in Rome was virtus, which is derived from the Latin word vir, or "man." Virtus , then, means something like "manliness." Unlike the Greek value areté, which means "being the best one can be," virtus stresses strength, toughness, simplicity, and bearing up under adversity.

For this reason, Stoicism, with its stress on accepting or toughing out adversity struck a particularly resonant chord with the Romans in the late Republic. Perhaps the single most important idea the Romans derived from the Stoics was their concept of the logos. The universe is ordered by God and this order is the logos , "meaning" or "rational order" of the universe. Each and every event, physical and historical, has a place within this larger rational order. Since the order is rational and meaningful, that means nothing happens which is not part of some larger reason or good. One essentially has only two choices in life: one can accept the circumstances of one's life or one can futilely resist those circumstances. Therefore, virtus , which originally applied to an agricultural or martial culture, can be adapted to any situation or station in life a Roman finds himself or herself in.

The logos also determined history itself; the course of history animating the Roman Republic and Empire was seen as the divine will working out its purpose in the world. Therefore, each human being had a duty (officium) to fulfill in this larger project; the key to performing that duty was acceptance of the role and strength (virtus ) in the face of adversity.

How is this value of virtus Christianized in Boethius?

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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 9-18-96