Philotimo (Love of Honour)
by Ninon Chrysochoos Prozonic and Robert Porter Lynch
Philotimos is a critical element in understanding the human co-creative foundation. Literally it means the “love of honor,” and carries a very special sense of honor, obligation, self respect and teamwork. It was considered as an “extremely sensitive region of men's souls that gives forth gallantry, nobility and moral pride; it is the sense of honor and dignity.”
Unfortunately, neither the word nor the idea has any English equivalent, and thus the concept has been largely lost in our culture.
As Alexander Makedon has described, the ancient term’s meaning was complex but essential to the functioning of the culture:
- “In ancient times, there was great public pressure to behave uprightly. It would be unthinkable that someone without integrity (honesty, justice, truthfulness) is admired…”
- “This emphasis on goodness is perfectly encapsulated in the ancient inscription "kalos k' agathos" on numerous Greek artifacts. Kalos k' agathos means, literally, "good and good," with one "goodness" referring to the [outward] social and personal "beauty" of the person being depicted on the artifact, usually an amphora, and the other to his [inner] moral and humanitarian excellence. One is inwardly looking to personal improvement, the other outwardly to the quality of his social relations.”
- “The term "philotimo" …..may be translated as an internalized inclination to do good, with a strong sense of social responsibility. (Etymologically, filotimo means "love of honor" =philos+timi, although the honor referred to is not merely external, or for "show" purposes, but a psychologically internalized yardstick of goodness, as in the ancient "kalos k agathos."
- “Few will deny that among modern Greeks, philotimo is not only widespread, but also highly desirable. By now it is considered almost a cliche that if you want Greek men to cooperate with you, then somehow you must appeal to their "philotimo," including their personal worth, or the degree to which what they are about to do is lofty. Modern Greek culture puts inordinate pressure on young people to acquire philotimo, often through their teacher's rhetorical exhortations to "act with philotimo." At others times, anyone may be asked by someone else such embarrassingly castigating questions as, "How could you act that way? Don't you have any philotimo left in you?"
- “By making them confront the possibility of their "aphilotimia" (a=lack of philotimo, or integrity), they are at once chastised, or, worse, threatened with virtual exclusion from civilized company. Furthermore, and perhaps most painful, to be branded as "aphilotimos" is sometimes even equated as being dispossessed of your true "Greek [culture]."
The power of Philotimo was extraordinary in that it bound the individual to a very high standard of behavior. Philatimo was not just an admired trait among Greek citizens, it was expected of them. The expectation was that all members of the society or community would first act in the interests of the greater good of the whole, not in their self interest.
And anyone who violated the honor code of Philotimos would be branded a heretic, labeled with the scarlet letter “A” for Atimia - which means unscrupulous, dishonest, dishonourable, like a weasel and a fox etc.. The consequences of atima were severe: excommunication – to be ostracized or exiled from one’s community for violating the “common unity.” As my colleague Ninon says:
- “In ancient Greece - the very worse thing that could happen to a man was to lose his 'timiotita' (from the word 'atimia') meaning lose his honesty.. men were judged for their moral traits.. and lost their civic rights when accused of 'atimia' They were thrown out of Athens and had no rights.. They did not have to be caught killing, or stealing to be branded 'atimos' - Athenians had to cast 6000 votes in order to judge someone.. Everyone voted. If 6000 people voted you were dishonourable, you just lost your civic rights and had to leave Athens and go into exile!! Moral values during that era were far more important to ancient Greeks than anything else! It was very important to them from a religious stand point to live a very honourable and virtuous life. They believed that if they lived and acted honourably, would reach a superior 'level' of virtue, which would give them happiness.”
Philotimos was the principle source of trust that enabled the group to overcome their fear of betrayal, their fear that one person’s unscrupulous or selfish desire would supersede the greater good of the whole. Aristotle observed that that all human actions have one or more of these seven causes:
Chance Nature Compulsion Habit Reason Passion Desire
Of these seven, if Reason and “constructive” desire were to prevail over compulsion, passion, old habits, chance, and “destructive” desire, then any group must adhere to a code of honor which would form the covenant of cooperation.
The implications of this idea/ideal on any community, team, or alliance today are profound. Those who break the bond of virtue by violating honor, respect, and love for one another can no longer play in the game. Those who play by the rules of honor will cherish the greater good – all for one, one for all – thus being released from the bondage of fear of betrayal, released to explore the unknown together.