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Culture

Philotimo - The Most Greek Virtue

Philotimo. A big word without a single definition. A virtue that contains an entire constellation of virtues within it. It is the most exalted of Greek principles, imprinted, some even say, into the Greek DNA. 

 

In ancient times it referred to a love of honor and glory, but over the centuries it has become so much more. 

 

The word itself breaks down into the roots "filos" - friend, and "timi" - honor. Literally it means the "friend of honor", but goes far beyond that. 

 

It encompasses the concepts of doing right, living right, pride in oneself and one's family and community, respect, and sacrifice, gratitude and humility. 

 

It's doing the decent thing - and recognizing that it is an honor to do the decent thing. 

 

Even when there is no gain for you. 

 

It's the deep awareness in one's being that motivates the good that they do, without expecting anything in return. 

 

It is honor and dignity, generosity and hospitality, kindness and empathy, responsibility and duty, courage and compassion, rising above low behavior, and living not just for yourself, but for something larger than yourself. 

Philotomo is Leonidas and his vastly outnumbered Spartan warriors fighting to the death to save their country from the Persian invaders. 

 

Philotimo is the mayor and bishop of Zakinthos  hiding and saving all the Jews of the island when the local Nazi commander had demanded he be given a list of all their names or face severe reprisals. 

 

Philotimo is the Cretan resistance  assisting and hiding Allied soldiers despite the threat of the death penalty for aiding them.

 

Philotimo is the Grandmothers of Lesvos who feed and house Syrian refugees when they have so little themselves. It is the fishermen who pull the refugees out of leaking boats and carry them safely to land. 


It shows itself in small, everyday ways as well as history-changing ones; a child showing respect and love to their parents; the gracious offering of refreshment to visitors; helping someone broken down by the side of the road - any random act of kindness, big or small. Putting oneself out there for someone else is always an act of philotimo.

 

Everyone has philotimo on some level, of course, not just Greeks. But the Greeks have coalesced the concept and made it a central building block of their characters. 

 

We nurture philotimo in our lives by helping someone simply because they need help; by being generous without weighing it against our gain; and by taking pride in living decent and honorable lives.