An aretology (from ancient Greek aretê, "excellence, virtue") in the strictest sense is a narrative about a divine figure's miraculous deeds. In the Greco-Roman world, aretologies represent a religious branch of rhetoric and are a prose development of the hymn as praise poetry. Asclepius, Isis, and Serapis are among the deities with surviving aretologies in the form of inscriptions and papyri. The Greek aretologos (ἀρετολόγος, "virtue-speaker") was a temple official who recounted aretologies, and who might also interpret dreams.
By extension, an aretology is also a "catalogue of virtues" belonging to a person; for example, Cicero's list and description of the virtues of Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") in the speech Pro Lege Manilia. Aretology became part of the Christian rhetorical tradition of hagiography.
In an even more expanded sense, aretology is moral philosophy which deals with virtue, its nature, and the means of arriving at it. It is the title of an ethical tract by Robert Boyle published in the 1640s.
- Laurent Pernot, Rhetoric in Antiquity, translated by W.E. Higgins (Catholic University of America Press, 2005), p. 80
- Christopher Walter, The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition (Ashgate, 2003), p. 17.
- Roger Rees, "Panegyric," in "A Companion to Roman Rhetoric (Blackwell, 2007), p. 140.
- Walter, The Warrior Saints, p. 17; Alistair Stewart-Sykes, From Prophecy to Preaching: A Search for the Origins of the Christian Homily (Brill, 2001), p. 75.
- John T. Harwood, The Early Essays and Ethics of Robert Boyle (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), p. xvii.
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- Detailed look at Aretology from the Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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