How Homeric is the Aristotelian Conception of Courage?

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Issue Date
Sep 2017
Zavaliy, Andrei
Journal Article
When Aristotle limits the manifestation of true courage to the military context only, his primary target is an overly inclusive conception of courage presented by Plato in the Laches. At the same time, Aristotle explicitly tries to demarcate his ideal of genuine courage from the paradigmatic examples of courageous actions derived from the Homeric epics. It remains questionable, though, whether Aristotle is truly earnest in his efforts to distance himself from Homer. It will be argued that Aristotle's attempt to associate with Homer the two forms of specious courage—courage of the citizen troops and spirit-caused courage—fails to provide sufficient criteria for the demarcation in question. All the essential elements of the Aristotelian account of courage, such as a voluntary choice, a noble goal, and a thumos-driven reaction guided by reason are exemplified by a number of Homeric characters as well. It is thus likely that the philosopher's account of courage largely incorporates the poetic tradition at a new level, rather than supersedes it.