View Full Version : An Elegy for Beauty

8th July 2006, 12:05
<br>It's always refreshing to step out of the present day-and-age, with its media-generatd, thin-supremacist sickness, and to immerse oneself in the healthier culture of another time.

In our discussion of the late Roman writer <a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/board/showthread.php?t=278" target="_blank">Prudentius</a>, we noted how the supplanting of the Classical religion by early Christianity, in the waning days of the Roman Empire, resulted in a demonizing of the values that had been associated with the Old Gods. Feminine indulgence, for example--which had long been considered a virtue, due to its association with the goddess Venus--was now reinterpreted as a vice.

But before the great empire collapsed, and the Dark Ages descended over the lands that had formerly enjoyed Roman rule, a handful of writers composed a few final poems in the Classical mould. Their works appear like flickering candles in a storm, and once their lights were extinguished, Europe was plunged into darkness for many long centuries.

One of these final luminaries was a poet named <strong>Maximian</strong>, also called Maximinianus Etruscus, whose <i>Six Elegies</i> are among the last literary works to emerge from the waning Roman Empire. In the first of his <i>Elegies,</i> Maximian recalls the amours of his youth, and describes his conception of ideal beauty:<p><blockquote><i><strong>Soft luxury</strong> does there the body grace,
And there does love his sacred temple place.
I <strong>not in the lean nor slender</strong> found delight;
<strong>Flesh</strong> satiates best the fleshy appetite.</i><p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/medieval/maximian01.jpg" alt="Unidentified goddess modelling for Christina swimwear (www.christina.ca)"></center><p><i>Where body is by body, <strong>softly</strong> pressed,
The height of pleasure then must be confessed,
When the kind touch <strong>no meager bones molest</strong>.</i><p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/medieval/maximian05.jpg" alt="Heather Shantora (size 14) modelling for J'ai Bridals"></center><p><i>The <strong>pale and clear complexion</strong> I adored
If <strong>with nature's roses</strong> richly stored;
For Venus claims that flower as her own,
And always in her votaries 'tis shown.</i><p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/medieval/maximian02.jpg" alt="Valerie Lefkowitz in fuller-figured days; test image"></center><p><i>The untried virgin, shame for loving shows,
And modestly she blushes forth a rose,
Experienced lovers too this flower bear,
And in their cheeks after joys tasted wear.</i><p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/medieval/maximian04.jpg" alt="Katie Strandmark, test image. Katie has lovely facial features and a fine complexion, but she is exceedingly thin, and not at all plus-size. She really represents what *straight-size* models should look like"></center><p><i>The <strong>golden hair</strong> and neck, <strong>milk-white</strong> and pure
With guileless look, attentive and demure,
Dark eyebrows and the pride of forehead high;
Often observed, the sparkling, ardent eyes
Would oft my heart with love, and awe surprise.
I loved the moist, the ruby swelling lip,
Where kisses I could taste, and nectar sip.
A long round neck made gold appear more fine,
And jewels with a double lustre shine.</i></blockquote><p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/forum/medieval/maximian03.jpg" alt="Kailee O'Sullivan modelling for Laura Canada's Prom 2006 campaign. Kailee is on the slim side, and one dearly wishes that she were fuller-figured, but her appealing height (*under* 5'8) and youthful qualities make her very popular"><p><strong>* * *</strong></center><p>Regular readers of this forum will immediately recognize the feminine attributes that Maximian celebrates: the "golden hair," the "milk-white" neck, the "pale and clear complexion" adorned with the delicate blush of "nature's roses" (which, he observes, provides the best setting for "gold" and "jewels," which shine shine with superior lustre against fair skin), and, of course, a preference for the "softly" curvaceous "flesh" of the fuller female figure, which, he affirms, constitutes "the height of pleasure."

Maximian even specifies his distaste for "lean" and "slender" bodies, and--as if he were anticipating today's skeletal celebrities, 1500 years before they existed--he particularly reviles "meagre bones," which "molest" the "kind touch." Ashton-Gwatkin's more modern translation of those lines reads: <i>"When flesh to flesh adheres, / It's painful if an <strong>odious bone</strong> appears / And prods the lover."</i>

(Ah, the wisdom of the ancients!)

In short, the epitome of femininity that Maximian describes is the same ideal of beauty that (as we have seen in our recent discussions) originated in Classical Antiquity, carried through to the Middle Ages, remained dominant in the Renaissance, in the Romantic and Victorian ages, all the way up until the 20th century, when political forces undermined Western values (aesthetic and otherwise), and when the mass media was taken over by alien elements, which steadily gained ascendency over Western culture.

As D.S. Brewer notes in his study of the timeless ideal, Maximian's lines <i>"establish the type to which </i>every<i> lady conforms in all the medieval Latin and vernacular literature of Europe. This conformity is a remarkable illustration of the cultural unity of medieval Europe"</i> (258). And in fact, that "cultural unity" remained unbroken from the dawn of Western civilization until the cataclysm of the last war, despite all of the intervening centuries of conflict, because it was in harmony with the essential yearnings of the human heart.

And what has the displacement of this ideal of beauty by today's androgynous, unaesthetic standard accomplished, but inflicted misery and unhappiness on women everywhere, and left our culture fragmented and marginalized?

It is high time for our culture to slough off its ideological captivity, and restore the essential ideal of beauty that gave it form and purpose throughout its glorious history.



Brewer, D.S. "The Ideal of Feminine Beauty in Medieval Literature." <i>Modern Language Review</i> 50:3 (1955): 257-69.

Maximianus. <i>Elegies of Old Age.</i> Trans. Sir Horvenden Walker. London: B. Crayle, 1688.

Maximianus. <i>Six Elegies on Old Age.</i> London: J. Sackfield and T. Warner, 1718.

Maximianus Etruscus. <i>Max: Poet of the Final Hour.</i> Trans. Frank Ashton-Gwatkin. London: Paul Norbury, 1975.

9th July 2006, 13:39
as if he were anticipating today's skeletal celebrities, 1500 years before they existed--he particularly reviles "meagre bones," which "molest" the "kind touch." Ashton-Gwatkin's more modern translation of those lines reads: <i>"When flesh to flesh adheres, / It's painful if an <strong>odious bone</strong> appears / And prods the lover."</i>
Maximian's words make you step back and realize just how ridiculous it is that Hollywood's freakish, bone-rack celebrities are called "gorgeous" by the entertainment press. Putting them in designer clothes doesn't make them any less malnourished. They still look like concentration-camp victims. They don't look beautiful. They look pitiful.

Maximian's natural aversion to the skeletal look is the same reaction that anyone would have, if they weren't brainwashed by the modern media. They would look at the waifs (actresses and models alike) and find them utterly repulsive -- and would put them on NO covers, book them on NO TV shows. Instead, they would celebrate goddesses exhibiting the "soft luxury" of a well-fed figure, as they would find them obviously more attractive and appealing.

It still amazes me how we (as a society) ever became so completely turned upside-down about true beauty.

11th July 2006, 23:54
I think that Maximian's elegy represents healthy male desire for feminine beauty. Many young men growing up in Western societies today have been confused about what beautiful women should look like. I think most of the blame can be attributed to the crassness of our culture. The rejection of timeless ideals and good taste in the cultural fields of music, literature and fashion led to the same rejection of feminine beauty.

Minimalism and brutalism in architecture, for example -- according to which everything must be bare and straight (and in some cases, downright hideous) -- were translated into unflattering, ugly fashions, and even imposed upon women's bodies. Notice the difference between the gorgeous, flowing gowns of centuries past, such as the form-fitting stolas of Greece and Rome, and some of the crude fashions that are now popular in Hollywood and in the world of high fashion. In striving for the "avant garde" and the "new," common sense has been lost. Many of the fashions that are in vogue today are meant to make women look deliberately unattractive, and are also meant to make us feel ashamed of our natural figures. Our culture has now gone so far downhill that postmodern ideals like deliberate crassness, and antagonism towards femininity, rule the day.

I think things are slowly changing, but our culture needs more people willing to make a stand for true beauty. This is why I enjoy sites such as this.