A Brief Look At Virtue and Vice
|Francesco Pesselino – The Seven Virtues (male and female personifications|
To live a moral life, according to Plato, you needed the following qualities: justice, temperance, courage and prudence. These are the “cardinal” virtues and the foundations of a civilised society.
But do they correspond to the so-called cardinal signs of the zodiac? These open each season; cardinal comes from the Latin for hinge. Aries: spring, Cancer: summer; Libra: autumn; Capricorn: winter.
You can see an easy correspondence between the following:
Justice – Libra
Fortitude/courage – Aries
Prudence/wisdom – Capricorn
Does Cancer work for Temperance?
Christians later added the three “Theological Virtues” to the Cardinal ones to create the so-called Seven Virtues. These three were, of course, faith, hope and charity. The greatest of these, according to St Paul, being charity.
We now have Seven Virtues – which immediately makes one think of the seven traditional planets. Which virtue would go with which planet?
|Burne Jones: Hope, Charity, FaithHope – Moon|
Charity (magnanimity) – Sun
Hope – Moon
Faith – Jupiter
Justice – Venus
Fortitude – Mars
Wisdom – Saturn
Temperance (healthy mind) – Mercury
Or would Jupiter get faith and the Sun justice? Or Saturn justice and the Sun wisdom? And maybe the Moon and Mercury ought to swap places. Theologians spent centuries arguing over which virtues were most important and whether there were seven or nine or umpteen. Renaissance astrologers couldn’t quite agree on how the planets and the virtues worked out either, but everyone must have had fun thinking about it.
|Battling the Seven Deadly Sins.|
Treatise on the Vices, Peraldus.
There is a different list of the seven virtues, based on the fifth century poem by the Roman governor Prudentius. These are paired with equal and opposite Seven Deadly Sins.
Chastity – Lust
Temperance – Gluttony
Patience – Wrath
Kindness – Envy (?)
Humility – Pride
Diligence – Sloth
Charity – Avarice
|Prudence vs Foolishness from|
Giotto’s Allegories of Vice and Virtue.
This again has a slightly different set
You could assign the planets like this, although I think some are debatable.
Chastity – Lust – Venus
Temperance – Gluttony – Jupiter
Patience – Wrath – Mars
Kindness – Envy – Saturn
Humility – Pride – Sun
Diligence – Sloth – Mercury
Charity – Avarice – Moon
I can see that these might work for certain signs too.
Chastity – Lust – Virgo
Humility – Pride – Leo
Diligence – Sloth – Taurus
Patience – Wrath – Scorpio
Charity – Avarice – Sagittarius
Temperance – Gluttony – Cancer
Kindness – Envy – Libra
Which would still leave five signs without a deadly sin to call their own. Seems a bit unfair. But you could also start to think of these in terms of polarities. For example, patience and wrath works for both Taurus and Scorpio. Diligence and Sloth might describe Virgo and Pisces.
Aristotle created a theory of virtues that seems potentially eminently astrological: there are 12, so that would give everyone a crack at the whip of vice.
Aristotle’s Virtues and Vices
with the addition of signs of the zodiac
|SPHERE OF INFLUENCE||Rashness||Courage||Cowardice|
|Pisces Pleasure and pain||Licentiousness||Temperance||Insensibility|
|Cancer Getting and spending (minor)||Prodigality||Liberality||Illiberality|
|Taurus Getting and spending (major)||Vulgarity||Magnificence||Pettiness|
|Leo Honor and dishonor (major)||Vanity||Magnanimity||Pusillanimity|
|Capricorn Honor and dishonor (minor)||Ambition||Proper ambition||Unambitiousness|
|Scorpio Anger||Irascibility||Patience||Lack of spirit|
|Aquarius Social conduct||Obsequiousness or flattery||Friendliness||Cantankerousness|
|Libra Indignation||Envy||Righteous indignation||Malicious enjoyment|
|I hope you can make out this peculiar engraving of|
Pride and Folly by Theodor de Bry.
Click here for a clearer image.
I wonder what a modern table of virtues and vices might look like. You can see that lust, gluttony and avarice are still very much with us, but there do seem to be some vices that are missing. Where is cruelty?
And the virtue that is most shoutingly absent is love…
Of course, it depends on which translation of the Bible you are most familiar with. In many versions, Paul speaks of Faith, Hope and Love. But our predecessors chose to call that Charity instead, as you can see from the iconography as well as the texts.
Feel free to add your own virtues or vices. Maybe we can come up with a new astrological table.