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Thomas Taylor: Beauty and Body

sexta-feira 25 de março de 2022

Note to Thomas Taylor  ’s translation of First Alcibiades  

History testifies that Alcibiades from his childhood paid but little attention to the acquisition of wealth. Indeed, according to Plato  , one of the greatest arguments of being well born is a contempt of wealth ; and hence, in the Republic  , he makes this to be one of the elements of the philosophic nature. For an aptitude to virtue is inconsistent with an attachment to riches. Indeed, since it is requisite that a genuine lover of virtue should despise the body, is it not much more necessary that he should despise the goods of the body ?

But, assuming a more elevated exordium, let us consider from what conceptions souls become so much attached to beauty and magnitude of body, to nobility, and power : for these are images extended to souls of realities themselves, which the intelligent despise, but the stupid embrace with avidity. We must say, therefore, that beauty and magnitude appear in the first of the divine orders ;—the former rendering all divine natures lovely, and desirable to secondary beings, and the latter causing them to transcend mundane wholes, and to be exempt from their proper progeny. For magnitude, according to Plato  , considered as a divine idea, is that cause by which every where one thing transcends another. Of those two great principles likewise, bound and infinity, which are next in dignity and power to the ineffable principle of things, bound is the source of beauty, and infinity of magnitude. Hence the alliance of beauty to the former, as being the form of forms, and as swimming on the light of all intelligible forms; but of magnitude to the latter, from its incomprehensibility, from its embracing all things and subduing all things. From the first principles, therefore, beauty and magnitude proceed through all the middle orders, as far as to the apparent world, which, according to Timæus, they perfectly render the greatest and the most beautiful of sensible gods. Souls therefore, according to their spontaneous innate conceptions, pre-assume that these shine forth in divine natures ; and hence they admire beauty and magnitude in mortal bodies, as possessing a resemblance of their divine originals. However, through their ignorance of the true archetypes, they are detained by, and alone admire, the obscure and fleeting imitations of real beauty and magnitude.

In the second place, with respect to nobility, this also first subsists in divine natures. For things which derive their subsistence from more elevated causes transcend according to genus those which are generated in secondary ranks. This is also evident from Homer, who makes Juno say to Jupiter :

... thence is my race derived, whence thine :

and in consequence of this she wishes to possess an equal dominion in the universe with Jupiter. According to this conception, you may also say that in us the rational is more noble than the irrational soul, because, according to Plato   in the Timæus, the artificer of the universe gave subsistence to the former—but the junior gods, or those powers that preside over the mundane spheres, to the latter. Natural succession is the image of this nobility ; to which when souls alone direct their attention, they become filled with vain conceptions, and are ignorant of what Plato   asserts in the Theætetus, that it is by no means wonderful, in the infinity of time past, if he who is able to enumerate five-and-twenty noble ancestors, should find, by ascending higher in antiquity, that these progenitors were descended from as many slaves. But the liable and perpetual alliance of souls is suspended from divine natures, about which they are disseminated, and from divine powers under which they are arranged. For the attendants of more exalted deities are more noble, as likewise are those powers which are suspended from greater divinities, according to an allotment in the universe.