Beauty (ancient thought)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Milky Way above a woman at Trona Pinnacles

Beauty for ancient thinkers existed both in form, which is the material world as it is, and as embodied in the spirit, which is the world of mental formations.[1]


The classical terms in use to describe beauty were kalon (Grecian) and pulchrum (Latin).[2]

Bronze Age[edit]

During this time there existed a woman, known as Helen of Troy, who was known as the most beautiful, which is presumably the most beautiful within the Greek world. Her existence is dated to about 1250, one source specifically shows around 1188 B.C., this being the date of an astronomical occurrence during the Trojan War. Knowledge of her stems, primarily, from within the work of Homer known as the Iliad, c.850 or 750 B.C.[3][4][5][6][7]


Thales of Miletus[edit]

In an irreverent recollection from history, pertaining to this philosopher and beauty, there is a story which has passed into posterity on how Thales was mocked by a servant girl recognised for her beauty, after finding himself to have fallen into a well while looking upward at stars (Plato, Theaetetus - 174a4-8).[8][9]

See also: Cleobulina [10]

Heraclitus of Ephesus[edit]

In one fragment of Heraclitus's writings (Fragment 106) he mentions beauty, this reads : To God all things are beautiful, good, right... [11]


Pythagoras conceived of beauty as useful for a moral education of the soul.[12]

The Pythagoreans conceived of the presence of beauty in universal terms, which is, as existing in a cosmological state, they observed beauty in the heavens.[1]

Pythagoras wrote of how people experience pleasure when aware of a certain type of formal situation present in reality, perceivable by sight or through the ear.[13] Pythagoras discovered the underlying mathematical ratios in the harmonic scales in music.[12]


The classical concept of beauty is one which exhibits perfect proportion (Wolfflin).[14] In this context the concept belonged often within the discipline of mathematics.[2]

An idea of spiritual beauty emerged during the classical period,[1] beauty was something embodying divine goodness, while the demonstration of behaviour which might be classified as beautiful, from an inner state of morality which is aligned to the good.[15]


Socrates and Plato[edit]

The writing of Xenophon shows a conversation between Socrates and Aristippus. Socrates discerned differences in the conception of the beautiful, for example, in innanimate objects, the effectiveness of execution of design was a deciding factor on the perception of beauty in something.[1] By the account of Xenophon, Socrates found beauty congruent with that to which was defined as the morally good, in short, he thought beauty coincident with the good.[16]

Beauty is a subject of Plato' in his work Symposium.[12] In the work, the high priestess Diotima describes how beauty moves out from a core singular appreciation of the body to outer appreciations via loved ones, to the world in its state of culture and society (Wright) .[13] In other words, Diotoma gives to Socrates as explanation of how love should begin with erotic attachment, and end with the transcending of the physical to an appreciation of beauty as a thing in itself. The ascent of love begins with one's own body, then secondarily, in appreciating beauty in another's body, thirdly beauty in the soul, which cognates to beauty in the mind in the modern sense, fourthly beauty in institutions, laws and activities, fifthly beauty in knowledge, the sciences, and finally to lastly love beauty itself, which translates to the original Greek language term as auto to kalon.[17] In the final state, auto to kalon and truth are united as one.[18] There is the sense in the text, concerning love and beauty they both co-exist but are still independent or, in other words, mutually exclusive, since love does not have beauty since it seeks beauty.[19] The work toward the end provides a description of beauty in a negative sense.[19]

Plato also discusses beauty in his work Phaedrus,[18] and identifies Alcibiades as beautiful in Parmenides.[20]

Platonic thought synthesized beauty with the divine.[13]


Scruton (cited: Konstan) states Plato states of the idea of beauty, of it (the idea), being something inviting desiriousness (c.f seducing), and, promotes an intellectual renunciation (c.f. denouncing) of desire.[21] For Alexander Nehamas, it is only the locating of desire to which the sense of beauty exists, in the considerations of Plato.[22]


Aristotle defines beauty in Metaphysics as having order, symmetry and definiteness which the mathematical sciences exhibit in a special degree.[14]


In De Natura Deorum Cicero wrote: the splendour and beauty of creation , in respect to this, and all the facets of reality resulting from creation, he postulated these to be a reason to see the existence of a God as creator.[23]


During the Italian Renaissance Vasari aligned himself to the classical notion and thought of beauty as defined as arising from proportion and order.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d J. Harrell; C. Barrett; D. Petsch, eds. (2006). History of Aesthetics:. A&C Black. p. 102. ISBN 0826488552. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  2. ^ a b G Parsons (2008). Aesthetics and Nature. A&C Black. p. 7. ISBN 0826496768. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  3. ^ P.T. Struck - The Trojan War Classics Department of University of Penn [Retrieved 2015-05-12]( < 1250> )
  4. ^ R Highfield - Scientists calculate the exact date of the Trojan horse using eclipse in Homer Telegraph Media Group Limited 24 Jun 2008 [Retrieved 2015-05-12]
  5. ^ Bronze Age first source C Freeman - Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean - p.116, verified at A. F. Harding - European Societies in the Bronze Age - p.1 [Retrieved 2015-05-12]
  6. ^ Sources for War with Troy Cambridge University Classics Department [Retrieved 2015-05-12]( < 750, 850 > )
  7. ^ the most beautiful - C.Braider - The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism: Volume 3, The Renaissance: Zeuxis portrait (p.174) ISBN 0521300088 - Ed. G.A. Kennedy, G.P. Norton & The British Museum - Helen runs off with Paris [Retrieved 2015-05-12]
  8. ^ Plato, Theaetetus (174a4-8) in The Presocratic Philosophers, edited by G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (2nd edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 80 quoted in Ancient philosophers - Washington and Lee University [Retrieved 2015-05-12]
  9. ^ James J. Winchester - Ethics in an Age of Savage Inequalities p.21, Lexington Books, 8 December 2015, Consulted 2017-05-02
  10. ^ Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology (I.M. Plant ed.) Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2004 ISBN 1904768024, Consulted 2017-05-02
  11. ^ W.W. Clohesy - The Strength of the Invisible: Reflections on Heraclitus (p.177) Auslegung Volume XIII ISSN 0733-4311 [Retrieved 2015-05-12]
  12. ^ a b c Fistioc, M.C. The Beautiful Shape of the Good: Platonic and Pythagorean Themes in Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment,. Review by S Naragon, Manchester College. Routledge, 2002 (University of Notre Dame philosophy reviews). Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  13. ^ a b c J.L. Wright. Review of The Beautiful Shape of the Good:Platonic and Pythagorean Themes in Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment by M.C.Fistioc Volume 4 Issue 2 Medical Research Ethics. Pacific University Library. Retrieved 2015-05-11.(ed. 4th paragraph - beauty and the divine)
  14. ^ a b Sartwell, C. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Beauty. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition). Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  15. ^ a b L Cheney (2007). Giorgio Vasari's Teachers: Sacred & Profane Art. Peter Lang. p. 118. ISBN 0820488135. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  16. ^ N Wilson - Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece (p.20) Routledge, 31 Oct 2013 ISBN 113678800X [Retrieved 2015-05-12]
  17. ^ K Urstad. Loving Socrates:The Individual and the Ladder of Love in Plato's Symposium (PDF). Res Cogitans 2010 no.7, vol. 1. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  18. ^ a b W. K. C. Guthrie; J Warren (2012). The Greek Philosophers from Thales to Aristotle (p.112). Routledge. ISBN 0415522285. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  19. ^ a b A Preus (1996). Notes on Greek Philosophy from Thales to Aristotle (parts 198 and 210). Global Academic Publishing. ISBN 1883058090. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  20. ^ S Scolnicov (2003). Plato's Parmenides. University of California Press. p. 21. ISBN 0520925114. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
  21. ^ D. Konstan (2015). text. published by Oxford University Press. ISBN 019992726X. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  22. ^ F. McGhee - review of text written by David Konstan published by the Oxonian Review March 31, 2015 [Retrieved 2015-11-24](references not sources: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.06.08 (Donald Sells) + DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199605507.001.0001 )
  23. ^ M Garani (2007). Empedocles Redivivus: Poetry and Analogy in Lucretius. Routledge. ISBN 1135859833. Retrieved 2015-05-12.

External links[edit]