Beauty & Love

Botticelli-Venus-Image

“Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli

Beauty & Love are two concepts that are frequently tied together in the dialogues as the basis of much of Platonism. They serve as important, driving theological and theurgic factors. Beauty and Love are ultimately a gateway & key respectively, which when combined leads us on the path of achieving union with the divine.

 

Beauty

The Greek word usually translated as “beautiful” is kalon. As is often the case with translation, “beautiful” and “kalon” don’t mean exactly the same thing. While there are times in the dialogues where there’s congruence between the words, it’s not a constant. Furthermore, Plato is more likely to describe a work of art or the beauty of a face as kalon than nature.

Generally, broadly translating kalon as “beautiful” is problematic. Sometimes kalon has the translation of “noble” or “admirable.” In Plato’s Symposium, wisdom is described as kalon, giving the word an ethical connotation different from conceptions of physical beauty. Additionally, kalon can also translate to words such as “fine”, “delightful” and “loveliest”, which only purifies the waters as much as further as they further muddle them.

 

The Form of Beauty – An Abstract

In the dialogue Greater Hippias (Also appropriately referred to as “What is Beauty?”) the divine Plato develops the idea of beauty as an intelligible Form.

The Forms are an integral part of metaphysics, representing elements of idealized, archetypal, or divine reality. For instance, there is a Form of Virtue, Wisdom, and Justice, and these Forms are these things in their truest form. Human virtue, wisdom and justice as seen in our material realm are but mere shadows of the Forms, instead participating in them to varying degrees. For example, if someone is Just, it is because they participate in the Form of Justice; when someone is Wise, it is because they participate in the form of Wisdom, etc. The Forms, while ultimately originating from the Intelligible Realm, are only realized and found by the Celestial Demiurge in the Intellective Realm, who as the Divine Mind (Nous) realizes the Forms and and brings them to life. The Forms are, in short, truly real and existent things, rather than mere metaphorical or psychological constructs.

As a Form, Beauty must be understood as existing outside of any beautiful thing. Instead, everything that has beauty (which is to say everything to some degree) participates the Form of Beauty, and it is this way we know what things are ugly and which things are beautiful. However, the Form of Beauty holds a unique position. Plato’s Symposium describes wisdom, which is itself the product of a Form, as beautiful. This explicitly implies that Beauty is somehow greater than, or ontological prior to, Wisdom; otherwise Wisdom would have no need to participate in Beauty as it apparently does; it would be a distinctly separate thing.

The reason Beauty is superior is due to its connection to the Good; one of the ways Platonists understand God. This connection is found in the nature of beautiful things also being beneficial or good:

Socrates: So we reach the conclusion that beautiful bodies and beautiful rules of life, and wisdom, and all the things we mentioned just now, are beautiful because they are beneficial?

Hippias: Evidently.

Socrates: Then it looks as if beauty is the beneficial, Hippias.

Hippias: Undoubtedly.

In essence, would the powerful and the useful be beautiful? Sort of. While they do hold that potential, in and of themselves they aren’t beautiful. Only when they are also beneficial or good are they beautiful. Because Beauty is connected to the Good, which in its lowest extreme is found at the height of the Intelligible Realm as Aion, Beauty is superior to all other Forms.

 

Symmetry’s connection to the Form of Beauty

Although beauty’s cause is the Form of Beauty, Plato provides another definition of beauty in the Philebus, where Socrates gives an unusual description of beauty:

“The beauty of figures which I am now trying to indicate is not what most people would understand as such, not the beauty of a living creature or a picture; what I mean, what the argument points to, is something straight, or round, and the surfaces and solids which a lathe, or a carpenter’s rule and square, produces from the straight and the round. . . . Things like that, I maintain, are beautiful not, like most things, in a relative sense; they are always beautiful in their very nature, and they carry pleasures peculiar to themselves which are quite unlike the pleasures of scratching. And there are colours too which have this characteristic.”

From this, Socrates’ examples of beautiful things includes:

  • Plane figures, which have high levels of symmetry.
  • The Platonic solids (the elements fire, air, water, earth, and aether), which have high levels of symmetry.
  • The round object a lathe produces gives the suggestion of cylindrical symmetry.

 

This is all reflected in the Greater Hippias, where Socrates describes beauty as that which is “appropriate.” Appropriateness’ relation to symmetry is an element that’s common to Hellenic aesthetics, and is itself built into the Greek language:

  • The most common word for describing the world is kosmos, which holds a meaning of arrangement. This word is used for “world”, “realm” or “universe”, which suggests that the universe has a particular arrangement to it.
  • Furthermore the kosmos are ordered by the Celestial Demiurge through logoi. Logos has several meanings, including “word,” “argument,” “reason,” “intelligence,” and “proportion.”  These words, especially the last, suggest a kind of symmetry or harmony, harmonia.
  • Harmonia comes from a root word that means “to join”, which suggests an intelligent and proportional joining of parts into an appropriately arranged whole; the kosmos. The use of proportion and harmony are also found, in detail, in the benevolent Demiurge’s creative powers through the logoi. Ultimately, we receive an idea of beauty as appropriate. from the Greater Hippias.

 

This view on Beauty being a Form also being symmetry or proportion might initially seem contradictory to Beauty being a Form; based in these two assertions:

  1. A Form has no dependency on anything physical for its existence. Whether or not a physical window is made, the Form of Windows would exist regardless. After all, a window is merely an imperfect image of the Form of Window.
  2. Proportion or symmetry, however, typically requires physical things.

This seeming issue is quickly addressed, however, once Platonism’s inherit ties to Pythagoreanism are realized. Pythagoreanism is notable for its use of numbers to understand reality, most notably the decads. As already noted, Plato’s use of geometric figures relates to the five Platonic solids. However, by using geometric figures, Plato connects the ideas of harmony and symmetry inherent in the Platonic solids to numbers, the basis of geometry. In addition, according to Iamblichus, there are several kinds of numbers; one of which are “idea numbers”, which is explicitly means the decads are the Forms. It’s here the seemingly contradictory statement is resolved: while symmetry and proportion are properties of physical things, their bases, where they ultimately originate from, are in the world of Forms. Proportion and harmony, as the essence of what is beautiful, find their origin in the Form of Beauty.

 

Beauty in the Sensible Realm

It’s now been established that beauty ultimately has its origins from the Form of Beauty, and that which is beautiful is that which has harmony, proportion and symmetry. However, this doesn’t give us an understanding on beauty in the material world. Things such as wealth, health, fame, to reach old age, etc. are the of physical beauty that will now be discussed. It is important to note that these are not Beauty itself, as that is the Form of Beauty, but they are, however, beautiful; for they participate in Beauty, as do all things.

 

In Plato’s Symposium, a discussion is had regarding the role of poets and artists in their search for beauty. Diotima disccuses a “hierarchy of beauty” regarding the beauty of bodies:

  • First is the beauty of a particular body
  • Further up is the beauty within all bodies.
  • In direct relation to poets and artists, the love of the beauty of all bodies then becomes expressed as a beautiful verse.

However, although poetry and art is related to beauty in the Greater Hippias, it isn’t anywhere else in Plato’s writings; rather there’s a complete turn. In Plato’s Republic, poetry and all mimetic (imitative) art is outright banned from Kalliopolis, the ideal city made by Plato. The reasoning is because mimetic art is deceptive; appearing to be something that it’s not. Such creations not only fall beneath the Form employed by the Demiurge, but they also fall beneath an object based on the Form created by a craftsman. They are shadows of a shadow; or an an image of an image. For example:

  • A drawing of a cat is not a real cat; it simply looks like a real cat, which is itself based on the Form of Cat.
  • Likewise, tragedies and comedies don’t truly present the actual people involved,  but rather “surface versions” of them, taken out of context and with their natures blown up, acting contrary to reason (Take the horrible Troy movie from 2004, for example). Worst of all is when such performances present themselves as being the actual activities and words of real people in such a way that they may be emulated, bringing their irrationality, which is the contrary of philosophy and wisdom, into someone’s everyday life.

Appealing to the Irrational Soul and far removed from truth, such things contain no real beauty… Right? No. This isn’t to imply these things are without a hundred percent ugly; that’s outright impossible. While mimetic art may be further removed from the pure, good, and beautiful work of the Celestial Demiurge, it’s still something based on a Form. It’s clear from people’s reaction to various beautiful artworks, such as songs, poems, films, sculptures, and paintings, that Beauty is present in these things (When I saw the 1997 adaption of Homer’s Odyssey, I saw beauty). At most, Plato is only able to point out ways that there’s greater scarcity of Beauty in mimetic art.

 

From all this we may make at least a tentative statement as to what is beautiful: Anything and everything posterior to, or after, the Forms also has some element of beauty, as do the Forms themselves.

Plato’s Timaeus gives us a clue as to what is the most beautiful: In describing the creation of the physical world, the Timaeus says the Demiurge, intending “to make this world like the fairest and most perfect of intelligible beings,” creates the “Essential Living Being”, or the Whole Soul, in the likeness of the beings of the Intelligible Realm. The Whole Soul, as an image of the beauty of the Intelligible Realm, and as a direct creation of the Demiurge, is the most beautiful of things, as well as everything contained within it, which is “all the other living beings.” This means that the most beautiful of all things in creation are us, living beings.

 

Art is Beautiful and Good

Returning to the topic of art and beauty, Plato claims imitative art is bad in the belief that nothing comes from it; playing upon the Irrational Soul, strengthening it while weakening the rational part. He gives plenty examples:

  • Poems cause emotional outbursts, with their strings over your heart,
  • Plays cause people to imitate irrational activities, as people present themselves repeating the words and actions of heroes,
  • Songs encourage the emotions to take control from rational thought,
  • Paintings pretend to be what they aren’t,

And so on! In essence, Plato describes imitative art as bad because it pretends to be something other than what it is; and because of this deception the rational is suspended and the irrational comes to the forefront.

 

This might be problematic since we find examples of imitation that don’t have derision heaped upon them. For example:

  • The carpenter fails to reproduce the Form of Chair in the creation of their particular chair. A particular chair is merely an imitation, or an image of the Form of Chair. It isn’t the Chair we’re looking for, although it may pretend to be so.

 

However, there is a difference. The carpenter, in this case, is an imitator of the forms, while someone merely engaging in the mimetic art is an imitator of an imitator. Understand the difference:

  • Imitator of the Forms: The carpenter in the previous example is an imitator of the Forms. They have their eyes “fixed” on the Form, and through producing imitations on the Form, can be said to have a more intimate knowledge or relation with the Form from which the chair is derived. Their practice is anagogic; as in ascends us upwards, because it is based on something universal and eternal.
  • Imitator of the Imitator: None of this is true of the imitator of the imitator, howver, who only knows the surface of a particular imitation and never the universal Form. This form of imitation allows for no knowledge or experience of the Forms, instead affecting the irrational souls of its audience, because it is based solely on the material realm. These are images of an image; and while these things contain a beauty, their beauty is greatly hindered by the accretions of the irrational. Corrupted by irrationality, this sensible beauty has a negative effect. While outwardly alluring, the attraction is genagogic, meaning it binds us down to generation because it’s solely based on the sensible realm.

 

However, certain kinds of poetry, such as hymns to the Gods or praise poems to heroes, are allowed in Plato’s Kalliopolis. How are these forms of poetry different from other, banned kinds? The answers lies outside of Plato:

  • The Sophist Philostratus gives an inference that fine art is not the product of mimesis (imitation), but rather of phantasia (imagination). Plotinus expands on this, explaining that phantasia, in its intelligible aspect, connects the artist to the Forms rather than material, and thus allows art to make recourse to the Forms.
  • Plotinus gives a few more reasons why we shouldn’t condemn art:
    • Firstly, fine art works with the Forms or logoi, and is thus beautiful, and therefore by extension, good.
    • Secondly, Plotinus says we shouldn’t condemn mimetic (imitative) art for all that art imitates is itself an imitation of the Forms.

It is with this reasoning that imaginative art, even if it engages in imitation, becomes the basis for saving art; though not entirely. Art such as pseudo-historical plays can still be considered distasteful (I’m still looking at you, Troy 2004), except for those engaged in praise or hymnody, which has an inspired and imaginative nature (Such as 2000’s Gladiator).

 

The emphasis on divinely located imagination and imaginative art becomes highly influential in theurgy. By engaging with the Forms and their logoi, fine art and poetry become a kind of token or symbol (symbolon) of the divine realm. Examples are:

  • Eikons, which aren’t merely pieces of art; a participating essence of a deity is understood to be within the image they represent. They are Forms in matter, literal manifestations of the logoi of the Forms. It is because of this eikons are said to be “written” rather than painted, as they’re seen as forms of divine scripture. They are also unsigned by the artist, as the writer is understood to merely transmit the holy reality that is at the heart of the eikon.
  • Talismancy (the creation of talismans), which not only use astrological timing to empower the talismans they describe, but also fantastic imagery representing the powers of the planetary powers and stars. When all taken together, such talismans become microcosmic tokens or material signatures of the divine realm.

 

Conclusion on Beauty

Beauty is, overall, of obvious great importance. After all, it’s directly connected to the Good, and therefore can be understood to be connected to achieving the highest goal; henosis. Reaching the Form of Beauty ultimately means reaching the divine realm where the virtues originate, or at least as far as we can. However, individually, beauty is disconnected from us, and without a way to obtain it beauty, ultimately, serves no function. How, then, does one obtain it? The answer is eros, or love. Only when kalon is connected to eros, which binds everything together, can beauty be obtained, and only when beauty is obtained through love are we lead us upwards to divine realm where the virtues lie.

 

 

Love

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/83/87/fb/8387fbe056144d2b643191fc26f6c213--greek-mythology-eros.jpg

Love, or “eros“, is discussed in Plato’s Symposium, and is the key to Beauty. Returning to Diotima’s speech, she describes three degrees of love that:

  • The love of a particular person
  • Further up, the love of all people
  • Even further up, the love of the Intelligible Realm.

 

Now, I say degree because there are no distinct types of Eros. Love is always love; these are merely a matter of degrees.

 

Plato rejects romantic ideas of Eros. Diotima even denies that Eros is a God, and says that Eros is neither beautiful nor good. Instead Eros, as the offspring of Penia (Resource) and Poros (Need) is a Daimon, holding a median position between the realms of the divine and materiality. The Erotic urge is always provocative; with two roles:

  • Procreative/Generative: Eros has a procreative function; a longing “for the conception and generation that the beautiful effects.” This is the type of Eros that is tied with romantic ideas and has an urge for sex, which Plato rejects. He rejects it because it is genagogic; meaning it binds us towards generation, and thus a lesser degree of Eros.
  • Intelligible/Theurgic: Eros has a secondary function; the desire of beauty and goodness, which in turn leads people to them. This desire implies that Eros is lacking beauty and good to some extent. This is because nothing desires what it already has, only that which it lacks. Eros desires, and thus lacks. This means that when Eros is centered on the spirit, it thus has a love of beauty (As said before, living things, which have souls, are the most beautiful things), and with that the soul will be directed towards the virtues, the highest forms of beauty, and thus rise upwards to a vision of the Form of Beauty itself.
    • This allows us to achieve henosis. To understand this, we must understand that Eros is love, and naturally we want to hold on to the object of our love for as long we can. To grasp the Good (as in, to achieve henosis), which is beyond time itself, is to render the soul immortal. Intelligible Eros, as the love of spirit, is ultimately anagogic, meaning it lifts us up towards the divine.

(Again, it’s important to remind that these roles are just that; roles, not distinct types of Eros. There are no types, Eros is one thing with many degrees. Love is always love; this is just based on orientation.)

Some might object to this being the nature of love on the basis of it being “selfish”, with an egocentric treatment of people that merely uses them as a means to an end. “It isn’t to love a beautiful person”, one might foolishly complain, “but rather to love the beauty in a person as a means of an end; to just get a better understanding of beauty and the Form of Beauty and leave the person behind when a new level of beauty is attained.”

However, this is simply false. Ultimately, through Love, what one ultimately desires is virtue, which is of the higher aspect of beauty. Most importantly, among the virtues is the virtue of Justice, the most important of them. It’s importance lies in its nature: It’s a synthesis of the other virtues that’s based around bringing the Good to others. After all, only people who cultivate virtue (Wisdom, Courage, Temperance) and self control can bring positive change to others. It doesn’t merely bring benefit to you, but rather benefits everyone. At its highest levels, love is incapable of being selfish. Love adores both its immediate inspiration (the beautiful thing) and the ultimate source of beauty (the Form of Beauty).

 

Love & Theurgy

The spiritual & anagogic aspect of Eros are to be highly valued, especially in relation to theurgy. Comparing what the Chaldean Oracles and Plato’s Timeas both say on love reveals a lot:

  • In the Chaldean Oracles, Eros as a primordial power and the first creation of the Celestial Demiurge. The Celestial Demiurge then fills each soul with a “deep love” to bring them back to the Gods. This means that what part of the soul the Demiurge creates is, ultimately, filled with Love.
  • In Plato’s Timaeus, the Demiurge creates what is immortal, the Rational Soul, and the Gods have the task of creating all that is mortal in the human soul, the Irrational Soul.

This means that Love, as a product of the Celestial Demiurge, is part of the Rational Soul. Eros is, when ultimately realized in its fullest, a kind of Intelligible reason that draws us towards the Intelligible Realm. It is Intelligible Love, which is poured into the soul itself, that is the key to the Form of Beauty (and ultimately henosis) through theurgic practice. In short:

  • In Generative Love the source of inspiration is the beloved person.
  • In Intelligible Love the sources of inspiration are things of theurgic importance; divine tokens, symbols, the Gods and Celestial Demiurge, placed in the material to raise us to their source.

 

In short, Eros, specifically Intelligible Eros, is the so-called “key to start up the car of theurgy on the road to henosis”, to say it rather oddly. Theurgic religious rites do so by ritualizing the cosmos, which allows the theurgist to ascend through Intelligible/Theurgic Love. When theurgic rites are performed correctly they transform the theurgist, who is operating the junction of the two manifolds (the material realm and the divine realm) into the likeness of the object of the sacrifices by transposing the necessity of the sacrifice from the sacrifice to the sacrificer, and thus raises the theurgist (the sacrificer) up and towards the Gods at the heart of their Intelligible Love. This higher kind of love, which attaches us to the divine tokens and Forms, is the source of inspired beauty and imaginative art, and ultimately theurgy.

 

 

 

Why does Eros appear so ontologically late?

One might ask “why does Eros appear so ontologically late, in the Intellective Realm, as opposed to being an immediate product of the One, or at the very least the Intelligible?”

  • Firstly, the nature of the One is totally above everything. It’s incorrect to say that the One/Good itself loves, has love or is love because it is the ultimate source of love, and the source of something always transcends what it produces.
  • Secondly, we can’t say that love appears in the Intelligible Realm, because beings of the Intelligible Realm have absolutely no need for to strive upwards; they’re already at the very peak of existence one can go and fully participate in the Good.
  • Thus, Eros with its anagogic and genagogic powers are only necessary at lower levels.

 

Love & Frenzy

Ecstatic Love

Iamblichus’ writings on Eros are further expanded on in the works of Proclus, where in his commentary on Alcibiades he writes “Eros descends from above from the intelligible sphere down to the cosmic, and turns all things toward the divine beauty.” Proclus makes use of the two forms of Aphrodite found in Plato as a means of connecting the higher Intelligible Love and the lower Generative Love:

  • Aphrodite Ourania: The Intellective or Godly Aphrodite born of sea foam. Eros is Aphrodite’s eternal companion, and this form of Aphrodite is the source of Eros in its fully Godly aspect, rather than Daimonic. This is the “Intelligible Love.”
  • Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite of all the people): The Daimonic or Encosmic Aphrodite. She is the source of beauty and harmony, causing the union of opposites, and strengthening the weaker or lower of the two in its union with the upper, and is one of the three 12 Hypercosmic Gods who harmonize the universe. She descends to the material level to overseeing the beautiful embodiment of the Forms in matter because Eros is only necessary in these lower levels. This is the “Generative Love.”

Here we see the anagogic power of Love (Eros) and its connection to Beauty (in the form of Aphrodite) made abundantly clear and apparent.

Thanks to the high placement of Aphrodite and Eros, we find both:

  • The anagogic Intelligible Love: Which expresses ascent through henosis, the return of the soul to its source.
  • The genagogic Generative Love: Which leads those below in generation up to anagogic Intelligible Love, which ultimately sets them towards henosis. Generative Love expresses descent, in the form of divine providence, a prominent theme of Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis.

In short, Proclus’ writing on Eros can be described as ecstatic love, meaning it is ecstatic in nature; bringing union and thus harmony. Its harmonizing nature both ascends (Anagogic/Intelligible Love) and descends (Genagogic/Generative Love) and, like Aphrodite, becomes a harmonizing force in the cosmos.

 

Divine Inspiration

There is an obvious connection between intellect/reason and love. While intellect/reason, which ultimately stems from the Divine Mind (Nous/The Celestial Demiurge), is of an obvious extreme importance, there’s a high importance in mania, or divine inspiration as well. In the Phaedrus, Socrates describes four kinds of divine inspiration:

  1. Prophetic Frenzy: This is what the Pythia of Delphi and other sacred temples experience when in the grasp of the God. It is when the prophet is completely possessed by a God, and Iamblichus considers this the truest form of divination, since everything else is up to human interpretation and therefore fallible.
  2. Telestic Frenzy: This has to do with the performance of sacred rites and sacrifices for the purposes of healing. Marsilio Ficino, a 15th century Platonist, writes it as “a powerful stirring of the soul, in perfecting what relates to the worship of the Gods, religious observance, purification and sacred ceremonies.”
  3. Poetic Frenzy: This has to do with being inspired by the Muses to produce good poetry. According to Plato only poetry inspired by the Muses makes a person a good poet.
  4. Erotic Frenzy: This is a topic already discussed; the love that ultimately causes one to be left in a state of such awe with the Form of Beauty and a desire to reach it.

 

Each of the frenzies has at least two things in common:

  • First: The frenzies are anagogic and ecstatic, lifting the soul upwards and outwards towards participating ontologically prior realities. Iamblichus, especially, sees divine inspiration as a kind of total possession by the God.
  • Second: These frenzies all come from outside the soul; caused by the divine.

As we have seen from Iamblichus and Proclus, all the frenzies are elements of theurgic love. For a Platonist, this degree of eros, a degree that allows the theurgist to engage in demiurgy, is the highest kind of love. It’s a love that transcends the individual so completely that it raises the theurgist to divine levels and activities.

 

Conclusion on Love

The force behind the drive upwards towards henosis is Eros. Behind Eros is the harmonizing activity of Aphrodite, who Herself imitates the unifying activity of the One by filling those below Her with harmony. The strive for henosis, which is ultimately pointing towards the Good/the One (or at least as far as possible), is only accomplish through through Eros and the highest Intelligible Love, Aphrodite, thanks to Eros’ necessity in theurgy.

Like the virtue of Justice, which is itself a synthesis of the virtues, Aphrodite is herself a synthesis of the Gods; and while Athene filling the Gods with wisdom, it is Aphrodite who fills them with harmony. All the Gods being harmonized, it is obvious that Love exists within all the virtues, and furthermore love, like wisdom, fills all things.

 

Bibliography

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Butler P, Edward, “Gods and Daimons in the Platonic Economy of Sacrifice”, October 26, 2014, accessed August 10, 2017, https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/platonic-economy-of-sacrifice-butler.pdf

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Iamblichus. The life of Pythagoras. Kila, MT: Kessinger, 2000.

Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The complete works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.

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Tuomo Lankila, ‘Aphrodite in Proclus’ Theology,’ in: Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture 3 (2009) 21-43; ISSN: 1754-517X; Website: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/clarc/jlarc