Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea

Hardcover | December 10, 2014

byDavid Konstan

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What does it mean to say something is beautiful? On the one hand, beauty is associated with erotic attraction; on the other, it is the primary category in aesthetics, and it is widely supposed that the proper response to a work of art is one of objective contemplation. At its core, then,beauty is a contested concept, and both sides feel comfortable appealing to the authority of Plato, and via him, to the ancient Greeks generally. So, who is right - if either?Beauty offers an elegant investigation of ancient Greek notions of beauty and, in the process, sheds light on how we ought to appreciate the artistic achievements of the classical world. The book opens by reexamining the commonly held notion that the ancient Greeks possessed no term that can beunambiguously defined as "beauty" or "beautiful." Author David Konstan discusses a number of Greek approximations before positioning the heretofore unexamined term kallos as the key to bridging the gap between beauty and desire, and tracing its evolution as applied to physical beauty, art,literature, and more. The book then examines corresponding terms in Biblical Hebrew and ancient Latin literature to highlight the survival of Greek ideas in the Latin West. The final chapter compares the ancient Greek conception of beauty with modern notions of beauty and aesthetics. In particular,it focuses on the reception of classical Greek art in the Renaissance and how Vasari and his contemporaries borrowed from Plato the sense that the beauty in art was transcendental, but left out the erotic dimension of viewing. Even if Greece was the inspiration for modern aesthetic ideals, thisstudy illustrates how the Greek view of the relationship between beauty and desire was surprisingly consistent-and different from our own. This fascinating and magisterial exploration makes it possible to identify how the Greeks thought of beauty, what it was that attracted them, and what their perceptions can still tell us about art, love, desire-and beauty.

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From the Publisher

What does it mean to say something is beautiful? On the one hand, beauty is associated with erotic attraction; on the other, it is the primary category in aesthetics, and it is widely supposed that the proper response to a work of art is one of objective contemplation. At its core, then,beauty is a contested concept, and both sides fee...

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University and Emeritus Professor of Classics at Brown University. His previous books include Before Forgiveness, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks, and Friendship in the Classical World.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:280 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:December 10, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019992726X

ISBN - 13:9780199927265

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Table of Contents

1. The Problem with Beauty2. Beauty in Greek3. The Nature of Beauty4. Beauty Transfigured5. Beauty Across Cultures6. Greek Beauty Today

Editorial Reviews

"A breathtakingly wide view of beauty as the ancient Greeks conceived it, from Homer to the Septuagint, and from Plato to Derrida and Bourdieu - this is the work of a scholar with an immense command of classical literature and its legacy in our own time. This book should be required readingfor anyone working in aesthetics, ancient or modern. Readers will never again be able to imagine beauty shorn completely of its historical ties to passion and desire." --Paul Woodruff, The University of Texas at Austin