If you read very many critiques of the Ancient Greeks, you’ll
eventually find some author who insists that the Greeks, by virtue of the myths
that have survived to the modern world – with its stories of rapine and violence,
derived no moral or ethical insight from the Gods. This belies a shallow
understanding of the myths as a whole, and ignores the presence of many
One of those Gods that put the lie to the idea of the Greeks
as lacking in moral rectitude is Kakia. She is described as a personification only
by Xenophon and Philostratus. Plato has Socrates talk at length about her and
her opposite Arete (Excellence/Virtue). Aristotle too talks about the force of kakia. She is a Goddess with curvaceous figure and
overdressed – too much jewelry and too
This is because, Kakia is the personification of Vice. She’s
an example of the sort of Goddess the Greeks did not want to embrace. Kakia promises the easy road to happiness.
She’s the desire to pursue hedonism over most else. Strong’s concordance defines the word kakia
as ‘wickedness, evil, malice.’ She
embodies indulgence, ugliness, bad reputations, bad ancestry, and indigence.
She is unfit for purpose, lazy, untrustworthy as a force in one’s life. (Sluiter
Xenophon goes so far as to give us the story of Herakles
standing at a crossroads between Kakia and Arete, and being tempted by vice. A
sort of Garden of Gethsemane for the son of Zeus.
Taken the picture of vice and wickedness, I gain the insight
that accomplishing Arete’s service means work, and not always taking the easy
road, resisting temptations that would mean being drawn away from my purpose.
Rather than a society of rapine and excess, the Greeks tried
to pursue lives of moderation and careful purpose. To be certain there were
those who followed Kakia’s road. Yet the ideals of the Greek world was one in
pursuit of Arete, in avoidance of wickedness.
So powerful was the juxtaposition of Kakia and Arete that
long after the Christianization of the Hellenic world, society continued to
promote the image of a man (sometimes Herakles, sometimes a young boy) being
forced to choose between the two.
Cratylus by Plato
Platonic Drama and its
Ancient Reception by Nikos G. Charalabopoulos
Kakos: Badness and
Anti-value in Classical Antiquity edited by Ineke Sluiter and Ralph Mark
The Nicomachean Ethics
de Finibus by
Image: Paolo Veronese, “The Allegory of Virtue and
Vice,” via wikimedia commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_Virtue_and_Vice_%28Veronese%29