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Hogwarts and the four Cardinal Virtues

March 13, 2007

July 16th 2005, J.K. Rowling stated, in an interview with The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet, both Harry Potter fan sites, that she wanted the four houses of Hogwarts to “correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. So again, it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place. But they remain fragmented, as we know.”

I also believe that they represent the four cardinal virtues; (1) justice, (2) wisdom/prudence, (3) courage/fortitude, and (4) temperance. In Philosopher’s Stone (chapter 7), the Sorting Hat sings a song, and says that,

You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart, their daring nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart. You might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal, those patient hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil. Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw, if you are ready mined, where those of wit and learning will always find their kind. Or perhaps in Slytherin you’ll make your real friends, those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends.

The virtue of Gryffindor, as we see, is courage or fortitude, it houses “the brave at heart.” The virtue of Hufflepuff is justice, it houses the “just and loyal.” The virtue of Ravenclaw is wisdom or prudence, it houses the “ready minded” and “those of wit and learning.” But Slythering stands out. Their virtue should be temperance, but they put the emphasis on the opposite; ambition.

My thoughts is that in order to achieve the needed harmony, Slytherin must change. How one can do this, I don’t know — but the defeat of Voldemort, Salazar Slytherin’s heir, might have something to do with it.

What think ye?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2007 11:29 pm

    Ooh, tough one. Depending on how closely Rowling’s following actual biblical imagery with the snakes in HP, Slytherin might better fit “wisdom” – “be wise and serpents, gentle as doves,” Jesus said. That would make Ravenclaw temperance, and I can’t say that I can think of any good reasons for that off the top of my head.

    I’ll have to give this one more thought.

  2. March 14, 2007 11:03 am

    Well, in the four cardinal virtues, “wisdom” is not the same as cunning or cleverness (“be wise as serpents”), but it is more about insight into truth and into the self.

    Does that fit with Ravenclaw?

  3. March 15, 2007 1:15 pm

    Nevermind my first comment. I was listening to the sorting ceremony in Philospher’s Stone this morning on my way to work, and the hat referred to Ravenclaw as “wise.” So your initial description of Ravenclaw fitting “wisdom” is on the mark!

  4. June 13, 2007 5:14 pm

    But what does this mean? Does it mean that in the last book, some of the slytherins — or even some death eaters — become good, start focusing on moderation instead of ambition?

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