by cheri block sabraw
The Greek word sophrosyne was summarized in brief by the Oracle at Delphi in several succinct aphorisms: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. In other words, with moderation of all that pulls us away from the deep contemplation of our existence (like materialism, gluttony, and humanism), we will arrive at a deeper truth about our purpose.
The Greek word, hamartia, which means missing the mark, an error, comes from the sport of archery.
High school English teachers, when teaching a classic Greek tragedy such as Oedipus or Antigone, often focus their lessons on the over-used tragic flaw of the hero, who is brought down often by his hubris (arrogance).
Aristotle, in his Poetics, wrote about a different term, one used more broadly when characterizing a tragic Greek hero: that term is the above sophrosyne.
Nothing in Excess:
Heroes do not need to take an additional woman to bed, nor do they need to suck the marrow from another lamb shank off the spit. After a small segment of goat cheese, not three wedges, the hero should retire back to his boat, where he can argue with the Gods about his lineage. The Greek Hero need not boast about his name and connections (as Odysseus does after escaping the Cyclops, Polyphemus) or he might be blown back out the sea, so to speak, for ten more years.
Heroes may take an entire epic or play to know themselves. Only through their mistakes, their hamartia, will the introspective Hero grow into something greater than a brawny conqueror or a flashy God child. And how does one come to know himself in an archery tournament in which everyone, from plebeians to patricians, is shooting at targets without precious aim?
In short, high school teachers might consider broadening the lesson by including the terms sophrosyne and hamartia to the discussion.
Have the students determine their own hamartia in their short lives. Perhaps, they can then evaluate how to proceed with their sophrosyne.