SIGMA PHI EPSILON

GREEK IDEALS
Building Balanced Men.
Phratry
In ancient Greece, a phratry (phratria, Greek: φ(ρ)ατρία, "brotherhood", "kinfolk", derived from φρατήρ meaning "brother") was a social division of the Greek tribe (phyle).

By Kyle Whelton, Marquette '15

As brothers of SigEp, we are all challenged to explore our brotherhood – what it means and why it exists. This challenge is present in our Ritual and our Cardinal Principles of Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly Love. When I first joined the Wisconsin Zeta Chapter at Marquette University as a freshman, my older brothers made this quite clear to me, but I had trouble understanding precisely what it meant to explore brotherhood. Then, last spring as I was finishing the final requirements to go through the Epsilon Rite of Passage, I decided to take a closer look at the Creed. At that moment, I realized how I could further explore our brotherhood. I am pursuing a minor in classical studies here at Marquette and have had four semesters of Ancient Greek. I decided to translate the Creed into the same language used by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, some of the most brilliant thinkers in history, whose works influenced the Founders of SigEp.

The task was daunting. For those who aren’t familiar with Ancient Greek, it is challenging to translate into English, and even harder to render English into comprehensible Ancient Greek. You may be thinking right now that this kid is either a masochist or the biggest nerd ever to join our Fraternity, or both, because no one in their right mind would put themselves through that voluntarily. Perhaps that is right, but my motivation came from a deep love and admiration of the Fraternity that changed my life. I wanted to explore our brotherhood through a different medium and see what I could discover. 

Anyone who has experience with composing in a different language understands that English is quite idiomatic and many constructions simply do not have a literal counterpart in other languages. This reality forces the translator or composer to think about not just the English words, but also the intent behind each one. What did brother Oscar E. Draper, Washington State ’19, mean when he wrote, “I believe that Brotherly Love must be given in order to be received, and that it cannot exist without triumph of the principles of Virtue and Diligence, for these are essential parts of it?” The experience was challenging, emotional and fulfilling, and I could write pages about the nuances in the Creed that I discovered as well as personal revelations I had while translating. There are two, however, that completely changed the way I see this Fraternity and what it means to be a brother. 

The first insight comes from the Greek word I used for virtue. Ancient Greek is a rich language filled with subtleties and powerful descriptors. Sometimes there are only one or two words from which to choose, and sometimes there are several. Virtue represents the latter case. Thus, to make the most accurate translation, I had to decide what the Cardinal Principle of virtue actually means. After doing some philological work, I decided on ἀρετή (r-eh-tay). The word ἀρετή literally means excellence, goodness, nobility or valor. I took this meaning in the same sense the ancient Greeks did. The Greeks believed that a man ought to have ἀρετή in every aspect of his life. To be the best citizen, politician, leader, solider, you had to possess and strive for excellence, goodness, nobility and valor in all things. From my experience with the Ritual, the Creed, and my time in SigEp, I vehemently believe that this is what the Founders wanted each and every one of us to possess as fraternity men – to carry ourselves with ἀρετή, to pursue it diligently, and to do it with the love and support of our brothers.

The last insight I want to share with you comes from Brother Draper’s use of the word “must” throughout the Creed. He is adamant that these statements have to be affirmed in our lives and actions in order for our brotherhood to exist and flourish. I wanted to convey this admonition in Greek as strongly as it is in English. There is no verb in ancient Greek that conveys the same sense of obligation that “must” does in English, but there is a construction that in English translates literally into “it is necessary for x to do y.” Once I decided to use this construction, it hit me how watered down the word “must” is in contemporary English. My generation, more so than its predecessors, has a tendency to hyperbolize rather frequently. Today we throw “must” around for simple and flippant things like “you must see this movie” or “you must come hang out today.” While it does a good job conveying how strongly one feels about something, it removes the sense of necessity extant in the definition of the word “must.” The real sense of the word “must” implies obligation and necessity that if an action is not completed, something else cannot happen or exist. This is the strength and weight of Brother Draper’s words that is lost in contemporary English. It is necessary for each brother to give brotherly love to every other brother in order to receive it; without this, true brotherly love cannot exist.

I’ll end this reflection with the words of our Founders, “This fraternity will be different.” Remember, Brothers Jenkens, Phillips and Gaw envisioned a fraternity that would engender intelligent, physically fit and caring young men who would enter the world after college and leave it a better place. That is why we exist – to challenge the negative stereotypes of fraternalism that are ever present in our society. This Fraternity will be different because SigEps will change the way others view fraternity men. We work hard, play hard and make the difference in the lives of those around us because we believe that Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly love are the standards by which all men ought to live. 

The Founders said this Fraternity will be different. Over a century later, it is different from all other fraternities, and the path to preserving this legacy lies in our Ritual and Creed.