Γνοίη δ’ ἄν τις κἀκεῖθεν ὅσον διαφέρει τῶν ὄντων*, ἐξ ὧν αὐτοὶ διατιθέμεθα πρὸς ἕκαστον αὐτῶν. τῶν μὲν γὰρ ἄλλων ὧν ἂν ἐν χρείᾳ γενώμεθα, τυχεῖν μόνον βουλόμεθα, περαιτέρω δὲ περὶ αὐτῶν οὐδὲν τῇ ψυχῇ προσπεπόνθαμεν· τῶν δὲ καλῶν ἔρως ἡμῖν ἐγγίγνεται, τοσούτῳ μείζω τοῦ βούλεσθαι ῥώμην ἔχων ὅσῳ περ καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα κρεῖττόν ἐστιν. καὶ τοῖς μὲν κατὰ σύνεσιν ἢ κατ᾽ ἄλλο τι προέχουσιν φθονοῦμεν, ἢν μὴ τῷ ποιεῖν ἡμᾶς εὖ καθ’ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν προσαγάγωνται καὶ στέργειν σφᾶς αὐτοὺς ἀναγκάσωσιν· τοῖς δὲ καλοῖς εὐθὺς ἰδόντες εὖνοι γιγνόμεθα καὶ μόνους αὐτοὺς ὥσπερ τοὺς θεοὺς οὐκ ἀπαγορεύομεν θεραπεύοντες, ἀλλ’ ἥδιον δουλεύομεν τοῖς τοιούτοις ἢ τῶν ἄλλων ἄρχομεν, πλείω χάριν ἔχοντες τοῖς πολλὰ προστάττουσιν ἢ τοῖς μηδὲν ἐπαγγέλλουσιν. καὶ τοὺς μὲν ὑπ᾽ ἄλλῃ τινὶ δυνάμει γιγνομένους λοιδοροῦμεν καὶ κόλακας ἀποκαλοῦμεν, τοὺς δὲ τῷ κάλλει λατρεύοντας φιλοκάλους καὶ φιλοπόνους εἶναι νομίζομεν. τοσαύτῃ δ’ εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ προνοίᾳ χρώμεθα περὶ τὴν ἰδέαν τὴν τοιαύτην ὥστε καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων τὸ κάλλος τοὺς μὲν μισθαρνήσαντας καὶ κακῶς βουλευσαμένους περὶ τῆς αὑτῶν ἡλικίας μᾶλλον ἀτιμάζομεν ἢ τοὺς εἰς τὰ τῶν ἄλλων σώματ’ ἐξαμαρτόντας· ὅσοι δ’ ἂν τὴν αὑτῶν ὥραν διαφυλάξωσιν ἄβατον τοῖς πονηροῖς ὥσπερ ἱερὸν ποιήσαντες, τούτους εἰς τὸν ἐπίλοιπον χρόνον ὁμοίως τιμῶμεν ὥσπερ τοὺς ὅλην τὴν πόλιν ἀγαθόν τι ποιήσαντας. καὶ τὶ δεῖ τὰς ἀνθρωπίνας δόξας λέγοντα διατρίβειν; ἀλλὰ Ζεὺς ὁ κρατῶν πάντων ἐν μὲν τοῖς ἄλλοις τὴν αὑτοῦ δύναμιν ἐνδείκνυται, πρὸς δὲ τὸ κάλλος ταπεινὸς γιγνόμενος ἀξιοῖ πλησιάζειν. Ἀμφιτρύωνι μὲν γὰρ εἰκασθεὶς ὡς Ἀλκμήνην ἦλθε, χρυσὸς δὲ ῥυεὶς Δανάῃ συνεγένετο, κύκνος δὲ γενόμενος εἰς τοὺς Νεμέσεως κόλπους κατέφυγε, τούτῳ δὲ πάλιν ὁμοιωθεὶς Λήδαν ἐνύμφευσεν· ἀεὶ δὲ μετὰ τέχνης ἀλλ’ οὐ μετὰ βίας θηρώμενος φαίνεται τὴν φύσιν τὴν τοιαύτην. τοσούτῳ δὲ μᾶλλον προτετίμηται τὸ κάλλος παρ’ ἐκείνοις ἢ παρ’ ἡμῖν ὥστε καὶ ταῖς γυναιξὶ ταῖς αὑτῶν ὑπὸ τούτου κρατουμέναις συγγνώμην ἔχουσι, καὶ πολλὰς ἄν τις ἐπιδείξειε τῶν ἀθανάτων, αἳ θνητοῦ κάλλους ἡττήθησαν, ὧν οὐδεμία λαθεῖν τὸ γεγενημένον ὡς αἰσχύνην ἔχον ἐζήτησεν, ἀλλ’ ὡς καλῶν ὄντων τῶν πεπραγμένων ὑμνεῖσθαι μᾶλλον ἢ σιωπᾶσθαι περὶ αὐτῶν ἠβουλήθησαν. μέγιστον δὲ τῶν εἰρημένων τεκμήριον. πλείους γὰρ ἂν εὕροιμεν διὰ τὸ κάλλος ἀθανάτους γεγενημένους ἢ διὰ τὰς ἄλλας ἀρετὰς ἁπάσας.
* sc. τὸ κάλλος
(Isocrates, Or. 10.55-60)
One may also understand how much beauty excels over other things in the world from our attitudes toward each of them. We wish to obtain other things only if we need them, but spiritually we experience no further concern over them. A longing for beautiful things, however, is innate in us, and it has a strength greater than our other wishes, just as its object is stronger. We distrust those who are foremost in intelligence or anything else, unless they win us over by treating us well every day and compelling us to like them. But we have goodwill toward beautiful people as soon as we see them, and we serve only them without fail, as if they were gods. We enslave ourselves to such people with more pleasure than we rule others, and we have more gratitude to them, even when they impose many tasks on us, than to those who demand nothing. We criticize those who come under any other power and denounce them as flatterers, but we think that those who serve beauty are idealistic and industrious. We feel such reverence and concern for this sort of quality that we disenfranchise those with beauty who have prostituted it and abused their own youth more than those who wrong the bodies of others. Those who guard their youth undefiled by base men, as if it were a temple, we honor for the rest of time as if they had done something good for the entire city. Why spend my time discussing human opinions? Zeus, the most powerful of all, has displayed his power in other things, but he thinks it right to become humble as he approaches beauty. He took the form of Amphitryon when he came to Alcmene. He joined Danaë as a golden shower. He became a swan when he fled into the bosom of Nemesis and again likened himself to one when he wed Leda. Clearly he always pursues this quality of nature with craft, not with violence. Beauty is so much more preferred among the gods than among us that they even pardon their wives when they are overcome by it. One might point out many immortal wives who have been overcome by a mortal’s beauty. None has sought to have the event pass unnoticed, as if it were something shameful. They have wanted what they did to be exalted in song as something noble, rather than concealed by silence. The greatest evidence of what I have been saying is that we would find that more mortals have become immortal because of their beauty than because of all other qualities (aretai).
And we may learn how superior beauty is to all other things by observing how we ourselves are affected by each of them severally. For in regard to the other things which we need, we only wish to possess them and our heart’s desire is set on nothing further than this; for beautiful things, however, we have an inborn passion whose strength of desire corresponds to the superiority of the thing sought. And while we are jealous of those who excel us in intelligence or in anything else, unless they win us over by daily benefactions and compel us to be fond of them, yet at first sight we become welldisposed toward those who possess beauty, and to these alone as to the gods we do not fail in our homage; on the contrary, we submit more willingly to be the slaves of such than to rule all others, and we are more grateful to them when they impose many tasks upon us than to those who demand nothing at all. We revile those who fall under the power of anything other than beauty and call them flatterers, but those who are subservient to beauty we regard as lovers of beauty and lovers of service. So strong are our feelings of reverence and solicitude for such a quality, that we hold in greater dishonour those of its possessors who have trafficked in it and ill-used their own youth than those who do violence to the persons of others ; whereas those who guard their youthful beauty as a holy shrine, inaccessible to the base, are honoured by us for all time equally with those who have benefited the city as a whole. But why need I waste time in citing the opinions of men? Nay, Zeus, lord of all, reveals his power in all else, but deigns to approach beauty in humble guise. For in the likeness of Amphitryon he came to Alcmena, and as a shower of gold he united with Danae, and in the guise of a swan he took refuge in the bosom of Nemesis, and again in this form he espoused Leda; ever with artifice manifestly, and not with violence, does he pursue beauty in women. And so much greater honour is paid to beauty among the gods than among us that they pardon their own wives when they are vanquished by it; and one could cite many instances of goddesses who succumbed to mortal beauty, and no one of these sought to keep the fact concealed as if it involved disgrace; on the contrary, they desired their adventures to be celebrated in song as glorious deeds rather than to be hushed in silence. The greatest proof of my statements is this: we shall find that more mortals have been made immortal because of their beauty than for all other excellences.