PBP - Arete, Arakhne, and A New Hope
Arete (αρετη - pronounced a-reh-tee, with the "a" like in "apple") is excellence. This includes your profession, physical fitness, ethics, devotion, intelligence, courage, and other aspects of your life. It is striving for perfection in mind, body, and soul.
Arete is to want to be the very best, the best there ever was.
There are many sets of guidelines that help direct people toward arete. I like the Delphic Maxims, but others exist, such as the Tenets of Solon, or as I mentioned in my latest Delphic Maxim article, the Ten Commandments or the 613 Mitzvot.
Excellent in Only One Aspect
Illustration by Gustave Doré of 1861 edition of Dante's Inferno
Arakhne was awesome at weaving. She was so good at it, in fact, that she claimed that she was even better with a loom than Athene (Athena), Goddess of Weaving (amongst other domains, including Wisdom). Of course, hubris like this is a bad idea.
Athene, disguised as an old woman, went to Arakhne and warned her to stop saying that she is better than a Goddess. Arakhne called her an idiot, saying that she's too old to understand. Then, Athene dropped her disguised and challenged Arakhne to a weave-off.
That's when Arakhne went from bad idea to Bad Idea(tm). She wove a picture of the Gods raping people.
Arachne, of Maeonia, wove, at first the story of Europa, as the bull deceived her, and so perfect was her art, it seemed a real bull in real waves. Europa seemed to look back towards the land which she had left; and call in her alarm to her companions--and as if she feared the touch of dashing waters, to draw up her timid feet, while she was sitting on the bull's back. And she wove Asteria seized by the assaulting eagle; and beneath the swan's white wings showed Leda lying by the stream: and showed Jove [Zeus] dancing as a Satyr, when he sought the beautiful Antiope, to whom was given twins; and how he seemed Amphitryon when he deceived Alcmena; and how he courted lovely Danae luring her as a gleaming shower of gold; and poor Aegina, hidden in his flame, jove as a shepherd with Mnemosyne; and beautiful Proserpina, involved by him, apparent as a spotted snake. And in her web, Arachne wove the scenes of Neptunus [Poseidon]:--who was shown first as a bull, when he was deep in love with virgin Arne then as Enipeus when the giant twins, Aloidae, were begot; and as the ram that gambolled with Bisaltis; as a horse loved by the fruitful Ceres [Demeter], golden haired, all-bounteous mother of the yellow grain; and as the bird that hovered round snake-haired Medusa, mother of the winged horse; and as the dolphin, sporting with the Nymph, Melantho.--All of these were woven true to life, in proper shades. And there she showed Apollo, when disguised in various forms: as when he seemed a rustic; and as when he wore hawk-wings, and then the tawny skin of a great lion; and once more when he deluded Isse, as a shepherd lad. And there was Bacchus, when he was disguised as a large cluster of fictitious grapes; deluding by that wile the beautiful Erigone;--and Saturnus [Kronos], as a steed, begetter of the dual-natured Chiron. And then Arachne, to complete her work, wove all around the web a patterned edge of interlacing flowers and ivy leaves.
Source: Metamorphoses by Ovid, via Theoi
Athene, suitably pissed off, chastised Arakhne. This depressed Arakhne enough that she hanged herself. Athene had pity of her, but was still angry. Athene gave her life again, but in the form of a spider, the weaver of webs. Now, she just hangs out being creepy and blocking flying creatures.
Fun fact: Spiders and spider-like animals are called "arachnids" after Arakhne.
Fun fact 2: I was going to post a creepy spider picture here, but after doing the initial image search, I realized that I could be doing anything that isn't staring at spiders on the Internet. So, enjoy the Magic: the Gathering card that I already had on my hard drive.
There are a lot of great hero stories in mythology that demonstrate arete. Personally, I think Theseus demonstrates it very well. But, I'm going to try to look at a modern story because I think it may be a little more universally relatable.
Most good fiction starts with a main character who needs to grow and become better at something to conquer something bad. They strive for arete to achieve victory.
Luke started as someone who's down on his luck. He wasn't good at anything, really. He whined a lot a was generally just a burden.
He became a good follower. He was friendly and helpful, and he became part of an unbreakable team. He was just one of a fleet of starfighters, but using teamwork he was able to blow up the Death Star.
He also learned to become a good leader. Later, during the Battle of Hoth, he was the leader of the Rogue Squadron that held the Empire's forces back as the Rebels escaped.
Under Yoda (sometimes literally), Luke trained to strengthen his body while Yoda lectured him to exercise his mind.
Luke was part of a team not only to help, but because he needed help. He was good with a blaster but not much else. He would have died if his friends had not saved him from the trash compactor on the Death Star. Still, without his help, his friends would not have succeeded, either.
By the end of the trilogy, Luke is on his own while still being part of a larger plan. While the Rebel forces fought the Empire in space and on the forest moon of Endor, Luke did his part and fought Darth Vader and the Emperor on his own.
Courage, Loyalty, and Confidence
In defense of his allies, Luke fought against Darth Vader one-on-one. He was willing to stand up against someone who was considered one of the most deadly, evil men in existence without ever having been in a real duel.
His training and confidence in his skills gave him the courage to fight for what was right.
Faith & Power
Luke learned to wield power by putting his faith in the Force, an "ancient religion."pbp-arete-fn1 He learned under Obi Wan how to use the gifts he was given to block laser blasts without sight, to fire torpedoes without a targeting computer, and move things remotely, like his light saber on Hoth. He was attuned to the world(s) around him, which made him wise and powerful.
Is using Star Wars a ridiculous way to demonstrate arete? Probably, but I think I illustrated my point. Wouldn't you rather be a powerful Jedi than a creepy spider?
pbp-arete-fn1 The Force is referred to as an ancient religion in the movies. Darth Vader killed the man who made fun of his faith. Because the last Star Wars movie was made in 1983, this is still true.