Michael Ellis takes note of a prominent feature of the night sky and what it says about classical notions of beauty.
In the Western sky shortly after the sun sets these days is a brilliant celestial object. It sparkles, brightly glows and outshines every one of its neighbors. It is, of course, our sister planet, Venus, named for the Roman Goddess of Love and Beauty. The Greeks knew this same Goddess as Aphrodite and for centuries all around the Meditterrean festivals were held in her honor and numerous temples built for her worship.
Venerate love? Sure, most of us have no problem with that. The Greeks celebrated physical passion and elevated it to a religious station. But Shakespeare told us that beauty is only skin deep and we tend to think of beauty as being merely superficial, not of real value. We feel guilty when we appreciate a man or a woman for their physical appearance as if there was no real substance in that.
Ah, but the Greeks worshipped Aphrodite precisely because her beauty was at the surface. Beauty was of value just for its own sake. For the Greeks, it animated the universe. Beauty cries out to make us stay in the present. There is nothing hidden, no deep meanings. Aphrodite radiates and that is enough to suffuse the world.
I found myself recently at a cosmetic department. All around me were women putting on lipstick, eye shadow, perfume and trying on hats, dresses, slacks. There were mirrors everywhere. The salespeople and the clients were dressed to the hilt. Nothing seemed left to chance. Every hair, scarf, skirt, was arranged just so. I was mesmerized.
The Greek word kosmos originally referred to the right placing of multiple things in the world. Cosmetics, then, is the art of adornment, the careful placing of jewelry, the application of paint, the plucking of eyebrows. In careful ordering of the face, beauty is created which brings symmetry to the cosmos. I love that concept. We create beauty and bring order to our lives.
So don’t feel guilty. Behold and revel in all that is beautiful.
Shimmering Venus is in the West and all is right in the cosmos.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.
Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads tours throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.