Arete (Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means „excellence of any kind”. The term may also mean „moral virtue”. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.
The term from Homeric times onwards is not gender specific. Homer applies the term of both the Greek and Trojan heroes as well as major female figures, such as Penelope, the wife of the Greek hero Odysseus. In the Homeric poems, Arete is frequently associated with bravery, but more often with effectiveness. The person of Arete is of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties—strength, bravery, and wit—to achieve real results. In the Homeric world, then, Arete involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans.
In some contexts, Arete is explicitly linked with human knowledge, where the expressions „virtue is knowledge” and „Arete is knowledge” are used interchangeably. The highest human potential is knowledge and all other human abilities are derived from this central capacity. If Arete is knowledge and study, the highest human knowledge is knowledge about knowledge itself; in this light, the theoretical study of human knowledge, which Aristotle called „contemplation”, is the highest human ability and happiness.