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What is Gravitas?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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With its origins in ancient Rome, gravitas is understood to be one of the foundational virtues that men were expected to possess as part of fulfilling the proper role in society. Along with pietas and dignitas, gravitas formed the basis for the expression of all other essential virtues.

As a Latin word, gravitas is understood to embody several complimentary attributes. Generally, gravitas is understood to mean dignity, duty, and seriousness. All three qualities were thought to be important in male personal deportment, and were often used as a means of determining when a boy could rightly claim to have reached his majority and could be considered a man in both psychological as well as physical stature.

Gravitas was often closely associated with both pietas and dignitas. Pietas also involved duty, with a sense of being enhanced with cheerful devotion to that duty. Pietas has to do with devotion to the gods, as well as devotion to the family of birth, in particular the father. Beyond this devotion to the gods and the family, pietas also extended to the government and the wider community, since both were understood to function with the favor of the gods and as part of the extended family.

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Dignitas was understood to encompass such ideas as worthiness, dignity in style, status within society, and the amount of esteem bestowed upon the male by both family and community. With the element of gravitas coupled with dignitas, the combination was understood to be a reverence for standing in society, which was considered to be a serious responsibility as well as a privilege.

As part of the triad that called for a public persona that would be serious, dignified, and proper within the perimeters defined by society, gravitas was considered absolutely essential to the task of retaining a proper place in the community. Without the quality of a depth of personality and weighty judgement that were understood to be fundamental to the virtue of gravitas, a male would often slip to a slightly less desirable position in society, which in turn would adversely impact the standing of his children within the community.

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