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Page 8

The Greek Worship of Manly Beauty

 

    The Greek worship of the beautiful masculine form is something which the later world will never understand. In this worship there is too often a coarseness, a sensual dross, over which a veil is wisely cast. but the great fact of this worship remains: to the vast majority of Greeks "beauty" does not imply a delicate maid clad in snowy drapery; it implies a perfectly shaped, bronzed, and developed youth, standing forth in his undraped manhood for some hard athletic battle. The ideal possess the national life, and effects the entire Greek civilization. Not beauty in innocent weakness, but beauty in resourceful strength—before this beauty men bow down.[3]

    It is this masculine type of beauty, whether summed up in a physical form or translated by imagery into the realm of the spirit, that Isocrates (a very good mouthpieces for average enlightened opinion) praises in language which strains even his facile rhetoric.

"[Beauty] is the first of all things in majesty, honor, and divineness. Nothing devoid of beauty is prized; the admiration of virtue itself comes to this, that of all manifestations of life, virtue is the most beautiful. The supremacy of beauty over all things can be seen in our own disposition toward it, and toward them. Other things we merely seek to attain as we need them, but beautiful things inspire us with love, love which is as much stronger than wish as its object is better. To the beautiful alone, as to the gods, we are never tired of doing homage; delighting to be their slaves rather than to be the rulers of others."

    Could we put to all the heterogeneous crowd in the wide gymnasium the question, "What things do you desire most?" the answer "To be physically beautiful" (not "handsome" merely, but "beautiful") would come among the first wishes. There is a little song, very popular and very Greek. It tells most of the story.

"The best of gifts to mortal man is health; The next the bloom of beauty's matchless flower; The third is blameless and unfraudful wealth; The fourth with friends to spend youths' joyous hour".[4]

    Health and physical beauty thus go before wealth and the passions of friendship,—a true Greek estimate!

 

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