Standards of Beauty for an Ancient King
This website has some wonderful material on standards of beauty in the Renaissance and for most of Western history. However, as a scholar of ancient writings, I was reminded a passage The Song of Solomon.
Tradition holds that The Song of Solomon (aka. The Song of Songs) was written by King Solomon sometime during his reign from 971 to 931 BC. Even if you're skeptical about that date, we do know it was included in the Septuagint, which meant that by the time of Christ, it was already old enough to be considered ancient.
This passage of The Song, I think, demonstrates what Solomon considered a beautiful woman. And I'll take Solomon's opinions over those of modern fashionistas any day.
There is so much here that shows how standards of beauty in the past were much more geared toward natural femininity.
In the first verse, Solomon praises the beauty of his beloved' curvaceous hips. "The curves of your hips are like jewels / The work of the hands of an artist." It's the curves of the hips that Solomon finds beautiful. He's not interested in skinny, flat, straight hips. Oh no. Solomon liked women who looked like women.
But he's not done. Not by a long shot. The very next verse states:
I am especially intrigued by the "belly is like a heap of wheat" line. Now, Solomon does not say, "Your belly is like a threshing floor covered with wheat". A floor covered with wheat would be flat, like modern standards of appearance for women.
Quite the contrary, Solomon compares her belly to a heap of wheat. A heap. Heaps aren't FLAT. Heaps, especially heaps of small round objects like wheat grains, are ROUND! The are not flat. They rise above the floor!
So . . . this belly Solomon loves so much is ROUND. It isn't flat. Moreover, Solomon states this as a compliment. This is praise of this lovely woman!
Understand, this isn't some shy teenager struggling for the right words to say and then putting his foot in his mouth. This is King Solomon -- author of Ecclesiastes and most of the Book of Proverbs. This is a man who wrote three books that not only are still read 3,000 years later, but that are considred scripture by at least two major religions. This is a guy who knows exactly what he wants to say and how to say it. And when he states "Your belly is like a heap of wheat", he means it as a compliment and fully expects that the woman to whom it is written will interpret it as such.
Well, without belaboring the point, continued reading of the passage demonstrates that what Solomon found attractive was the natural beauty of a real woman, not anything like today's standards.
Thousands of years ago, the standards of beauty were that women in their natural form, with rounded hips and bellies, were as beautiful as anything else in nature.
That was the standard of every culture until the last few decades. Where oh where have we gone wrong?
Re: Standards of Beauty for an Ancient King
How wonderful to be reminded that real men appreciate the natural, sensuous beauty of full-figured women. This is all-too-often forgotten in this day and age, where women are brainwashed into believing a lie.
This post was refreshing and enjoyable. I continue to return to this Web site, where women who are curvy and feminine can relish in their beauty and feel confident and accepted.
Re: Standards of Beauty for an Ancient King
Thank you for providing such a fascinating and compelling analysis.
How interesting it is to consider beauty from a biblical rather than Classical perspective. Reflecting on this topic brings to mind the ongoing debate about the influence of Christianity on Western culture, how beneficial or detrimental it was, compared with the continent's pagan past.
On the one hand, the Church was a great civilizing force, and indispensable to the preservation of Classical learning. The Renaissance would not have been possible without the Classical texts that the monks of the Dark Ages copied and secreted away in their monasteries. The Church-oriented medieval world was a beautiful, organic culture, a society that produced great cathedrals, noble literature, and a profusion of glorious art (like the lovely Madonna-and-child sculptures that we featured in a recent post). Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a loving depiction of the halcyon, Catholic world of the Middle Ages.
On the other hand, the old pagan culture of Northern Europe was rich and vital, from the Viking traditions of the Nordic nations to the fascinating cosmology of the Slavs. One could argue that the Teutonic peoples lost something irreplaceable when their ancient myths were pushed aside, even declared blasphemies, by a zealous Church Militant.
And yet there were happy congruences between the Christian and pagan heritages of Europe. Organizations like the Teutonic Knights, the members of which were explorers as much as warriors, were guided by Christian precepts, and swore loyalty above all to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Northern equivalent of the feminine principle that Antiquity worshipped as Venus, the goddess of beauty). And yet in their military prowess the Knights embodied the pagan Viking spirit of old.
Likewise, great Western artists like Wagner created magnificent works based both on pagan traditions (the Ring cycle) and on Christian themes (Parsifal). Even the conflict between the two traditions provided rich artistic source material (Tannhäuser), so perhaps the proper conclusion to draw is that the tension between the Classical, Christian, and pagan traditions, and the merging of the three, is precisely what gave the culture of Northern Europe its energy and vitality. Ultimately, one cannot unweave this complex historical tapestry.
But to come back to the discussion of Old Testament themes and their influence on the beauty tradition, no one can deny that biblical literature provided the inspiration for many of history's greatest illustrations of full-figured femininity. The Old Masters created numberless depictions of Eve, of Susanna at the Bath, of Mary Magdalene, of Judith, of Potiphar's wife, and of every other biblical heroine--not to mention of the female saints. These images celebrate the womanly hips and generous waists of their subjects, just as King Solomon's verses do.
The Song of Solomon may record the "standards of beauty for an ancient king," but they are also the standards of beauty for everyone who still believes in timeless femininity. The aesthetic values of the biblical passage that Mike quotes are just as relevant today as they were in King Solomon's Day, and far preferable to the values of the modern age--as are so many of the values of those nobler times.
Here is Rubens's depiction of an especially luscious Susanna, in his Susanna and the Elders canvas of 1636-39. The model is his well-fed young wife, Helena, whose fair beauty inspired him to create his greatest masterpieces.
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