The d'Artagnan Romances
While the The Three Musketeers is very much a part of the common cultural consciousness, the two books which followed, which together form the trilogy known as the d'Artagnan Romances, written by Alexander Dumas (and Auguste Maquet), are considerably less well-known. In fact, were it not for the movie The Man in the Iron Mask, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jeremy Irons, it is reasonable to assume that were one to ask how the story of d'Artagnan and his tripartite swashbuckling companions ended one would likely receive the answer that d'Artagnan became a musketeer and the scheming Cardinal Richelieu's plans were stymied. Were that true The Three Musketeers would be an excellent period piece, fictionalized events of tremendous import in French and European history serving as the backdrop of a classic tale of 'good' triumphing over 'evil'. However, the story did not end there. Continuing the adventures of d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, two books followed The Three Musketeers: Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later, and it is in the conclusion of this trilogy that the careful reader is treated to a subtle commentary on the qualities which make a successful man in the world of European politics of the time.
(WARNING: I wrote this piece with the intention of giving an analysis of the ending of the trilogy. If you plan on reading the trilogy and don't want to known how it ends: STOP READING NOW.)
While friendship certainly holds a preeminent place when speaking about the characterization of the four principle characters, if we look at d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis individually we find that throughout the trilogy a particular character trait of each is emphasized, used to define the fundamental nature of each, which differentiates him from the others. The single accentuated attributes I have found are as follows: d'Artagnan is a man of great loyalty, Porthos, a man of tremendous physical strength, Athos, of powerful nobility of spirit, and Aramis, of ingenious cunning.
(Note: At 268 chapters long I am in no way going to attempt to summarize the plot of the Vicomte of Bragelonne, nor the much shorter preceding volume Twenty Years After. Suffice it say that all four men are alive as the the Vicomte of Bragelonne is coming to a close, the main action of which centers around Aramis and Porthos attempting to flee France after having been betrayed while trying to replace the king of France with his hitherto unknown twin brother, the man in the iron mask, d'Artagnan charged with apprehending them, Athos sitting dejectedly on his estate hoping his son will return alive from his first military campaign, which in his despair he seized upon after finding that the woman he loved was having an affair with the king.)
In the end Porthos dies, his strength failing him, crushed by a great rock he is holding up while allowing Aramis the chance to escape following the failed usurpation; Athos dies as well, succumbing to grief following word his son has been killed on campaign; d'Artagnan dies a short time later during a siege, in dutiful service to the king; but Aramis, the cunning bishop, lives; in fact, not only does Aramis survive but the reader is given to understand that because of his political power as head of the Jesuit order he is made a Spanish nobleman upon arriving in the country following the failed coup in France and made Spanish ambassador to France.
Aramis, cunning, additionally scheming and power-hungry, is the sole survivor of the group, the collective qualities of which I would posit are those which when manifested in a single individual would make the ideal man of any age, but Dumas (and Maquet) make clear by the conclusion of their epic narrative that king among these qualities if one desires to stay alive and to gain wealth and power is cunningness, this in a world where physical strength will fail with age, where nobility of spirit will be betrayed by eventual moral failing, and where loyalty is rewarded with continued servitude unto death.