Nikť and AretÍ: The Classical Ideal
Competition was central to Greek life, and the ancient Greeks struggled in war, athletics, intellectual arenas, and everyday activities. The concept of aretÍ drove them in their pursuit of perfection, for aretÍ was fulfillment of oneís natural potential as a human being. Winning a struggle (i.e. receiving the grace of the goddess Nikť) was to exemplify aretÍ, and such an action was worthy of honor and perhaps even immortal glory. Honor, the reverence from others given during a manís lifetime, was sought because it proved a manís worth to himself and proved that a man had lived up to his ancestors, but glory, the remembrance of a man far past his own life, was sought even more than honor. This essay details the Greek pursuit of honor and glory through their forms of competition aimed at aretÍ.
The Greek goddess of victory, Nikť, also embodied the idea of perfection through victory, because her presence signified the attainment of aretÍ. Symbolically, her wings represented vicissitude and her role as a servant represented an opposition to hubris. When both these symbolic meanings of the goddess were combined, her presence in art could have humbled overly haughty victors by reminding them to avoid hubris because their good fortune would eventually fall by means of vicissitude. This essay describes the goddess as she appears in ancient literature and art, while showing the relationship of the goddess to such Greek ideas as aretÍ, vicissitude, and hubris.
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