"No external grace is complete if inner beauty doesn’t vivify it. The beauty of the soul spreads like a mysterious light on the beauty of the body."
Throughout the ages, men and women have attempted to define and redefine beauty: the symmetry of the ancient world, the Victorian rosebud lips, the plump Rubenesque belly of the Renaissance, and the toned curveless hips of the late 20th century. Yet despite our long-lasting obsession with beauty and physical attributes, we’ve always known better — what truly matters comes from within.
Take Greek lyricist Sappho, an admired female poet of Classical antiquity, who long ago penned, “Beauty endures only for as long as it can be seen; goodness, beautiful today, will remain so tomorrow.”
Ancient Greece, to which we owe many of our concepts on beauty, insisted on the ideas of balance and harmony. The word the Greeks coined, kalokagathía, is a complex term that combines the adjectives for beautiful, honest, courageous, and good. The Greeks understood that physical attributes alone did not make a person and only by possessing positive character traits, such as honor, integrity, and kindness, could someone truly be deemed beautiful.
“For I affirm that the good is the beautiful,” said Plato in his dialogue Lysis, asserting that the latter could only be with the first.
During the Middle Ages, and as time went on, greater emphasis was put on the virtues of the soul — in other words, inner beauty. Yes, the body matters, to some extent, philosophers argued; it is, after all, our vessel through this world. Yet nothing matters more than what the soul has to offer.
While pleasing physical features catch the eye, it’s while being exposed to the kindness, warmth, and generosity of another person that we are truly stopped in our tracks. Beauty, true beauty, opens our hearts and minds, and inspire us to be better as well. The Greeks had it right.
In today’s modern world saturated with images of ideal body types and aesthetics, the notion of kalokagathía seems to have been lost within the media noise — yet not quite so. It’s a matter of reminding ourselves to dial up that inner frequency and cultivate what makes us who we truly are, compassionate, honorable, quirky, and funny, which ultimately give us that certain je ne sais quoi...