Virtus: Manliness, Excellence and the restoration of the Ancient Roman Virtues

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Cling fast to (virtus), I beg you men of Rome, it is a heritage that your ancestors bequeathed you. All else is false and doubtful, ephemeral and changeful; only virtus stands firmly fixed, its roots run deep, it can never be shaken by any violence, never moved from its place.
— Cicero

There is a word that describes manliness, the Romans and the Greeks used it. It has long since been forgotten by modern man.

Virtue or "Virtus", is a latin term used to describe the ideal actions and qualities of a Roman. Originally the term was applied to men, but has covered women also meaning prudence.

For men it means manliness or excellence and can also be viewed as courage.

Although there is not a whole lot of information directly related to Virtus in writings and literature, there are a lot of common words that are associated with Virtus and researches have learned that there are a few Virtues that seem to show up very often in these writings.

The Romans were so accquanited with the word and it was ingrained in the culture of antiquity that a formal definition was not needed. It was just part of life. The list of virtues that I will go over is just a modern understanding of what the mindset and culture of the Romans was.

It is not necessarily a "list" of what you need to do. Just like every other warrior writing or ancient writing such as Sun Tzu's Art of war, or Musashi's Book of Five rings, or Jocko Willinks Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, these virtues are part of the person who possesses them, not because of what they could become but because it is just who they are.

Yes, they can be taught and learned, but it takes a complete mental shift and a lot of study to start adopting them. A person needs to find a culture or a tribe that places the most paramount priority on being Virtus.

 Praetorian guard

Praetorian guard

Personal Virtues:

I) Resolute / Constantia

This is the virtue that drives an individual. It compels them to pursue and achieve goals and purpose. It is heavily chained to the word self-control or discipline. We also find this as a "Fruit of the Spirit in the Bible." As overlooked as it is then, it is overlooked now. This virtue refers to the personal will or stamina of the individual, it is associated with grit and stops one from emotionally giving up when faced with a challenging obstacle or adversity.

A person without Constantia is like a breeze. They lack commitment, focus, drive and they bounce from idea or task to another idea or task without ever completing or accomplishing any goals that are set.

I referred to personal will or stamina. Constantia is also related to Endurance, both of mind and body. The will to go on, so to speak. Endurance in roman times was more often linked to physical fitness. As you well now, fitness was held in high regard in antiquity. From the Coliseum to the home, fitness was essential.

Our culture today places physical fitness on the back burner, we don't understand just how important it is. When the body is healthy and fit, the mind follows suit. The stronger the mind the better a person can face daily challenges.

II) DUTY / PIETAS

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The word most associated with this is "piety" which often has negative religious connotation. However, In ancient Rome this meaning was much more expansive. Think of this word as more of respect for the order of both mortal and divine.

The word respect is meant for more of a sense of duty to ourselves and others. You especially see this among members of the military. There is a sense of pride for their country, respect for the officers appointed over them and the respect of the citizens that they protect. This isn't to say that only military members have respect, it is merely pointing out that the culture of the military is made up of duty.

A member should understand the role in which they play in the lives of others. It is an awareness of what the social structure is, who they are, and how they are connected to all of it. This keeps a person humble and honest without thinking more highly or lower of themselves than they actually are.

Pietas or Duty, also demands action. Every individual has a duty towards others. The action involved in fulfilling this duty takes serious effort. The individual should be dedicated to completing required tasks out of a sense of respect and self-worth. When we serve or fulfill our duty our life has more meaning, it benefits ourselves and those whom we serve.

III) Purity / Salubritas

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Wholesome healthy and pure. The ancient Romans described wholesome within two contexts.

  • Wholesome or healthy in relation to ones personal values, ethics and mental mindset
  • Wholesome or healthy in regards to ones physical well-being.

Being pure and healthy during ancient times meant more than exercising physically, it meant having dignity, and keeping your overall person healthy. Mentally, physically, and spiritually. This is exactly what is meant by 360 Man as well. The whole person.

A person needs to develop a moral and ethical framework. In fact, I don't know if this is really placed as important in educational systems anymore, or in households. What is ethical or moral?

The ancient Romans used several sources as the root of moral and ethics, namely stoicism, philosophy, and cynicism. This however, is ultimately up to individual interpretation. Some may use Christianity or another religious context or a combination of two or more.

I personally use my belief in the Christian faith and stoicism. I see many parallels between the two and find that taking a stoic approach does not counter act my belief in God, but solidifies it even more and allows me to have a strong moral and ethical framework from which I can make decisions from and stay untarnished by the worlds wayward antics.

For you, it might be different, as long as it brings a strong sense of duty, pride, and integrity to your daily life you are headed in the right direction.

IV) Self Control / Disciplina

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The virtue of self control is at the very core of Roman virtues. Discipline is essentially the self-regulation of ones impulses.

Today we are bombarded with temptations and desires every second. Recently I was reading an article that had asked people what they wanted to give up (fast) or add to their lives  for forty days, and some of the responses were what I would have expected, but a few of them surprised me.

  • To give up soda and sugar
  • To start working out
  • Give up sweets
  • Facebook and Instagram
  • To give up game son their phone or iPad (This was about what 70% of people answered)

Self-Control is being able to shut those things down on our own, and that is exactly what Disciplina is. The same temptation that we face today are just like the ones in antiquity. Sure, they didn't have cell phones, but there were many other things.

Two other words associated with self control are frugality, and modesty. The Romans believed in leading simple modest lives and didn't let their finances or a lavish lifestyle go unchecked for the result could be corruption. An extravagant lifestyle was considered a temptation towards vice and took one away from Romanitas (collection of political and cultural concepts and practices by which the Romans defined themselves).

This does not mean to be stingy or selfish, it means that a person handles their finances and luxuries in appropriately and responsibly. Cato the Elder wrote, “want not what you need, but by what you must have."

Today, we want what we want, when we want it, and we will get it, because we have to have it.

Frugality, modesty and discipline go hand in hand. The Romans were more focused on the men and women they were becoming, and less on what others thought of them, or who they thought others wanted them to be.

An undisciplined life is an unchecked life.  Discipline equals Freedom.


 Source: Courtesy of   ROMANRepublic.org

Source: Courtesy of ROMANRepublic.org


As men we should strive to be better men, according to who we were made to be. We have to want to be better men, and if it is a priority in your life, you will do what it takes.

Get yourself around other men who are trying to be better. Start a group yourself, you would be surprised at the men who are looking for something more. They are looking for accountability, advice, and insight into how to lead a life of purpose.

Most men, never learned how to be a man, because they had absentee fathers, or worse, cowardly fathers who belittled them, beat them, or blamed everything on them.

The Roman virtues are a great place to start. I only covered the personal virtues but there are also social virtues that you can read about in the links below.


 
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