Of Gentlemen, Scholars, Warrior, Poets, and Priests

Few words create such a vivid, complex, controversial, and individualized interpretation within the English language like the words Gentleman and Chivalry. Everyone seems to have their own idea of what a gentleman is, or at least what he should be.

Images of an elegant well-dressed man with impeccable manners, drinking only the finest single malt scotch from French perfume bottles the size of a milk gallon comes to mind. Thoughts of a man gallivanting around town to open doors for the random lady he doesn’t know seem somewhat adequate. And even a mental picture of a well-travelled and well-educated chevalier, equally skilled with a pen as he is with a sword, might be what you define as a Gentleman.

Whatever your own personal take on the subject, the reality is that the Gentleman goes beyond the word itself, existing as a Universal concept within almost every culture in the planet, since society decided that civility was better than barbarity. The following are just some of the cultural and historic Parallels to what we can call Gentlemen.

Medieval Knights and the Chivalry Code of Europe (12th - 15th century)

Chivalry has always been associated to the Knightly orders of Medieval Europe. Originating from an idealized German custom, it was developed in the North of France among the Cavalry Men who served under Charlemagne, reason why its etymology can be traced to the French term chevalerie, meaning horse soldiery. The code would be different from order to order, but at its core remained the same; gallantry, individual training, and service to others. All knights needed to have the strength and skills to fight wars in the Middle Ages. They were also required to be extremely disciplined and were expected to use their power to protect the weak and defenseless.

Knights were required to follow a strict code of Chivalry.

1) Believe the Church's teachings and observe all the Church's directions.

2) Defend the Church.

3) Respect and defend all weaknesses.

4) Love your country.

5) Show no mercy to the Infidel. Do not hesitate to make war with them.

6) Perform all your feudal duties as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God.

7) Never lie or go back on one's word.

8) Be generous to everyone.

9) Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice.

The medieval knightly class was adept at the art of war, trained in fighting in armor, with horses, lances, swords and shields. Knights were taught to excel in the arms, to show courage, to be gallant and loyal and to swear off cowardice and baseness.

The Roman Legionnaires (100 B.C. - 1000 AD.)

The Roman Legionnaires followed a strict code of behavior and etiquette as defined by their Patron Goddess Diciplina. They would serve as symbols to a society as they praised the female God of education and training, self-control and determination, as they educated themselves in the arts and lead an orderly way of life. It is understood that Centurion Code of Conduct evolved into the Code of Chivalry of Medieval Knights.

The leadership was chosen based on his expertness in all the exercises. He was expected to be vigilant, temperate, active and readier to execute the orders he receives than to talk; Strict in exercising and keeping up proper discipline among his soldiers, in obliging them to appear clean and well-dressed and to have their arms constantly rubbed and bright. 

The Fianna of Ireland and Scotland (9th-15th Century)

Fianna were small, semi-independent warrior bands in Ireland and Scotland. Although based on the historical bands of landless young men in early medieval Ireland known as kerns, they are best known as the Warrior-Poets in today’s culture.

Membership to the Fianna was subject to rigorous tests that proved supernatural prowess in fighting as well as an exceptional skill with words. In one such test the applicant would stand in a waist-deep hole armed with a shield while nine warriors threw spears at him; if he was wounded, he failed. In another his hair would be braided, and he would be pursued through the forest; he would fail if he was caught, if a branch cracked under his feet, or if the braids in his hair were disturbed. He would have to be able to leap over a branch the height of his forehead, pass under one as low as his knee, and pull a thorn from his foot without slowing down. He also needed to be a skilled poet.

The Diord Fionn was the war-cry of the Fianna, and they frequently employed its use prior to and amid battle, either as a mode of communication or to put fear into their enemies. They had three mottoes:

1) Purity of our hearts (Glaine ár gcroí)

2) Strength of our limbs (Neart ár ngéag)

3) Action to match our speech (Beart de réir ár mbriathar)

The Faris and the Furusiyya Code of Arabia (14th Century)

Furūsiyya is the historical Arabic term for knightly martial exercise during the Middle Ages, during the Crusades and Mamluk period in particular, especially concerned with the martial arts and equestrianism of the Golden Age of Islam. It was a concept and noble art that included the arts of war and hunting, equestrianism, tactics and strategy, and certain games like chess. This art was practiced throughout the Muslim world, and saw its greatest achievement in Mamluk Egypt during the 14th century. The term is a derivation of faras "horse", and in modern Standard Arabic means "equestrianism" in general. The term for "horseman" or "knight" is fāris. The four basic categories of Furūsiyya are:

1) Horsemanship

2) Archery

3) Charging with the lance

4) Swordsmanship

The faris or "knight" was trained in use of various weapons such as spear/lance/javelin, bow and arrows, saddle axe or Tabar Zin, sword/sabre, hammer/mace, dagger, etc. They were also trained in wrestling, and their martial art skills were to be honed first on foot and then perfected when mounted.

However, furūsiyya also appears to have retained a wider meaning of "the continuing ethos of manly endeavor of early Islam", comparable to the contemporary European notion of chivalry. The full range of meanings of the term includes the meanings of horsemanship, hippology, and farriery on one hand and chivalry or heroism on the other.

The Samurai and the Bushido Code of Japan (9th-18th Century)

Samurai, usually referred to in Japanese as bushi or buke, were the military nobility of medieval and early-modern Japan. The term samurai became almost entirely synonymous with bushi, and the word was closely associated with the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class. The samurai followed a set of rules that came to be known as bushido. While the samurai numbered less than 10% of Japan's population, their teachings can still be found today in both everyday life and in modern Japanese martial arts.

Samurai warriors described themselves as followers of "The Way of the Warrior" or Bushido. From the earliest times, the Samurai felt that the path of the warrior was one of honor, emphasizing duty to one's master, and loyalty unto death.

The Bushido code is typified by seven virtues:

1) Rectitude (gi)

2) Courage (yū)

3) Benevolence (jin)

4) Respect (rei)

5) Honesty (makoto)

6) Honor (meiyo)

7) Loyalty (chūgi)

Associated virtues:

8) Filial piety (kō)

9) Wisdom (chi)
10) Care for the aged (tei)

The Hwarang and the Se Sok O-Gye Code of Korea (3rd Century)

The Hwarang, or "Flower Boys" or “Flower Knights”, were the cultural elite youth in Silla, an ancient Korean kingdom that lasted until the 10th century. There were educational institutions as well as social clubs where members gathered for all aspects of study, originally for arts and culture, and stemming mainly from Buddhism. 

The Hwarang were also referred to as Hyangdo (fragrant ones or incense men), the word hwarang and its colloquial derivatives being used from everything from playboy, to shaman or husband of a female shaman. 

They followed the moral code of Se Sok O-Gye, sometimes also referred to as just O-Gye.
1) Loyalty to one's lord.
2) Love and respect your parents and teachers.
3) Trust among friends.
4) Never retreat in battle.
5) Never take a life without a just cause.

The Cuauhocelotl (Eagle and Jaguar Knights) of the Aztec Empire (13th-16th Century)

Eagle and Jaguar knights were a special class of infantry soldier in the Aztec army, one of the two leading military orders in Aztec society. They were a type of Aztec warrior called a cuāuhocēlōtl. The word cuāuhocēlōtl derives from the Eagle warrior cuāuhtli and the Jaguar Warrior ocēlōtl. These military orders were made up of the bravest soldiers of noble birth and those who had taken the greatest number of prisoners in battle. Of all of the Aztec warriors, they were the most feared. Eagle warriors, along with the Jaguar warriors, were the only such societies which did not restrict access solely to the nobility. The "Eagles" were soldiers of the sun, for the eagle was the symbol of the sun, while the “Jaguars” were soldiers of the night. 

Aztec culture valued appearance, and appearance defined people within society. Warriors had a very distinct appearance. As walking symbols to the Aztec society, these warriors had to embody all the virtues of what it meant to be an Aztec Warrior. Their training included warfare from the most experienced warriors in the army, as well as in general courtly subjects such as astronomy, calendrics, rhetorics, poetry and religion.

The Hawaiian Koa Warriors and the Art of Lua

The Koa warriors were the elite fighters of the Hawaiian islands. Their name originated from the tree they would use to fashion their weapons, the Koa tree. The Koa were deadly serious about the art of war, as they would view their training with an extreme religious diligence. The Koa would shave their body and apply oils for ritualistic purposes as well as the practical aplication of the battle field. Clothing would be minimal due to the warm climate and for ease of manuverability. 

Brutal in battle, the Koa would follow the art of Lua. Lua was more than a martial arts, it was a way of thinking, being, and healing. The Koa would practice using a form of dance similar to the japanese Kata, called Haka. Only the most noble of tribesmen would be inducted within the ranks of the Koa.

Junzi and Confucianism of China

The ancient Chinese concept of being a Junzi, literally meaning “lord’s son” but often translated as “gentleman,” to describe the ideal man. The Junzi is supposed to combine the qualities of a saint, a scholar, and a gentleman. Anyone with a hereditary position, meaning that they had the privilege of being born in the right side of society, was bound to this concept and was expected to act as a moral guide to the rest of society. Confucianism expanded this concept, so any righteous man willing to improve himself could become a Junzi. They had to:
1) Cultivate yourself morally.
2) Cultivate yourself culturally and participate in the correct performance of ritual.
3) Cultivate humaneness and charity.
4) Show filial piety and loyalty where these are due.

A Junzi enforces his ideals by being an example of what he preaches, letting his actions speak for him, and striving to be loyal, obedient and knowledgeable at all times. It is through pure virtue that he would lead others to follow his example. The ultimate goal was that the government of their times should behave much like family, with the Junzi having the moral obligations of a mentor and father figure.

Yiddish Mensch

Mensch means "a person of integrity and honor." A "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being 'a real mensch' is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous." The term is used as a high compliment, expressing the rarity and value of that individual's qualities.

Philosopher Kings of the Greek Utopia

Philosopher kings are the rulers of Plato's Utopian Kallipolis. If his ideal city-state is to ever come into being. The idea is that philosophers must become kings or those now called kings must genuinely and adequately philosophize.

Marcus Aurelius was the first prominent example of a philosopher king. His Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.

The Polymath or the Renaissance Man

A polymath (having learned much) is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. The term was first used in the seventeenth century but the related term, polyhistor, is an ancient term with similar meaning. The term is often used to describe those great thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, each of whom excelled at several fields in science and the arts.

Nietzsche’s Übermensch

The Übermensch (German for "Overman, Overhuman, Above-Human, Superman, Super-human, Ultrahuman, Higher-Person, Higher-Being." This is a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche had his character Zarathustra posit the Übermensch as a goal for humanity to set for itself in his 1883 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Übermensch is described as a goal set for itself, as a man who strives for worldliness, knowledge, and self-betterment.