A Brief Look At Virtue and Vice

Friday October 11th 2013
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.

Evelyn Paul

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,

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
of oppositions.

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




Aries Fear and confidence

Pisces Pleasure and painLicentiousnessTemperanceInsensibility
Cancer Getting and spending (minor)ProdigalityLiberalityIlliberality
Taurus Getting and spending (major)VulgarityMagnificencePettiness
Leo Honor and dishonor (major)VanityMagnanimityPusillanimity
Capricorn Honor and dishonor (minor)AmbitionProper ambitionUnambitiousness
Scorpio AngerIrascibilityPatienceLack of spirit
Sagittarius Self-expressionBoastfulnessTruthfulnessUnderstatement
Gemini ConversationBuffooneryWittinessBoorishness
Aquarius Social conductObsequiousness or flatteryFriendlinessCantankerousness
Virgo ShameShynessModestyShamelessness
Libra IndignationEnvyRighteous indignationMalicious 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.

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  1. Jamma says:

    Maybe the virtue of Openness … with Over-sharing and Uncommunicativeness as excess and deficiency … attributed to Gemini/Mercury …

  2. Christina says:

    … and kindness is more important than almost all the other virtues…

  3. Locus Beatus says:

    I think envy is a very Capricornian vice: one we have to fight against quite hard! Cappys in an unevolved or immature state can find other people’s success very threatening

    Cruelty seems to me very typical of the lower octave of Scorpio. All the cruellest people I’ve known personally have had heavy Scorpio (not only Sun but all the other personal planets too in varying combinations)

    • Christina says:

      I agree about envy. I think quite a few of the vices can be expressed in different ways in different signs. Envy is really pernicious. So you get Cappy style envy and Libra style envy and even, dare I say it, even Pisces style envy.

      I too think cruelty is a Scorpio thing.

  4. Natasha says:

    love and hate are unique – when I read Aristotle’s mean virtue and deficiency vice then all the virtues together seem to describe love whereas all the vices together describe hate….perhaps a bit black and white for sure, but thinking about love as a virtue is difficult for me. Like snow for the Inuits has many different words so feels love.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the picture of the engraving by Theodor de Bry – the outer circle of words is in old-Dutch and the inner circle in French. Very beautiful.

    Of course every planet has two ways of expressing its energy and the way this energy is expressed is always decided by the person who receives this energy and works with it (or against it). The trick is to stay balanced under all these different energies, which can be very difficult. It always puzzles me when I read for instance about someone like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin, who were really very cruel in their ideas, but were able to feel love at the same time for people in their inner circles. A person is never all bad. There is more to it !!


    • Anonymous says:

      It says:

      De houardije is soo groots en verblindt
      Datse God noch haren naesten en bemint

      Een moeder vol boosheijt vol twiste en tijrannije
      Principael als sij ghedronken heeft dit wel versint

      We den babelschen cop vol ijpocrisije
      En hout sij maet noch reden in haer heerschappije.

      Meaning :

      Pride is so big and blinded
      that she will not love God nor other people

      A mother of anger full of twist and tyranny
      Especially when she has been drinking

      from a cup full of hypocrisy
      there is no measure nor reason in her reign.


    • Christina says:

      Thanks for clarifying the languages. I wondered if that was Flemish but now I know.

  6. Prospera says:

    Gee, Christine – I came up with too long a list of vices and pared it down to: vanity, selfishness, superiority, righteousness, obsession, excessiveness and impatience. And whatever is the opposite of integrity – a virtue that seems the most woefully lacking. Someone I know to be of the highest integrity and possessing a blunt yet kind honesty, has Neptune, Venus, Sun, Jupiter and Mercury in Scorpio opposing Moon and Mars in a Taurean ascendant. Unsurprisingly, she holds a critical position in a national security agency. Forthright, yes… cruel? Never.