It is possible to see Homer as the beginning of a lot of things. (The use of ‘Homer’ here is simply for convenience as a way of referring to The Iliad and The Odysseyand should not be taken as an assertion that there was a single author of those two epics or that if there was such an author, the author had that name). Nevertheless, it may be particularly appropriate to see Homer at the beginning of virtue ethics. There are ways that there is a version of virtue ethics in the Homeric epics related to later virtue ethics in antiquity, and while there is no equivalent version of later metaphysics, epistemology, or political theory.
Virtue ethics dominates the way we see ancient ethics and that vein of ancient ethics can be taken back to Homer even if not quite the same as in later more abstract philosophical elaborations, and even lacking in the same vocabulary. What follows will just assume that a language of virtues can be applied to Homer and is not concerned with how far such a language can be found in an explicit way in that literature. The Homeric approach is interestingly different and even superior to the later philosophical reflections in that virtues are shown to varied and conflicting, rather than as part of rationally unified and hierarchically structures.
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