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Kalos kagathos

Kalos kagathos (Ancient Greek: καλὸς κἀγαθός [kalos kaːɡatʰós]), of which (καλοκαγαθία) is the derived noun, is a phrase used by classical Greek writers to describe an ideal of gentlemanly , especially in a military context.

Its use is attested since Herodotus and the classical period. The phrase is adjectival, composed of two adjectives, ("beautiful") and ("good" or "virtuous"), the second of which is combined by crasis with καί "and" to form κἀγαθός.

Werner Jaeger summarizes it as "the chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action".

The word was a term used in Greek when discussing the concept of . It became a fixed phrase by which the Athenian aristocracy referred to itself; in the ethical philosophers, the first of whom were Athenian gentlemen, the term came to mean the ideal or perfect man.

The phrase could be used both in a generic sense, or with certain specific force. As a generic term, it may have been used as the combination of distinct virtues, which we might translate as "handsome and brave", or the intersection of the two words "good" or "upstanding". Translations such as "gentleman" or "knight" have traditionally been suggested to convey the social aspect of the phrase, while "war hero" or the more cynical "martyr" are more recent versions, and emphasise the military element.

Its recorded usage dates from the second half of the 5th and in the 4th century B.C.. For example, in Plato's Lysis, a young man is described as imbued with kalokagathia.

There is thematic discussion of kalokagathia in Aristotle's Eudemian Ethics, Book VIII, chapter 3 (1248b). And how a kalos kagathos (gentleman) should live is also discussed at length in Xenophon's Socratic dialogues, especially the Oeconomicus.

  • Werner Jaeger (trans. Gilbert Highet). Paideia, The Ideals of Greek Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1945.


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