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Oxford University Press
12 February 2015
European history; Classical history & classical civilisation; Philosophy; Philosophy: aesthetics
What does it mean to say something is beautiful? On the one hand, beauty is associated with erotic attraction; on the other, it is the primary category in aesthetics, and it is widely supposed that the proper response to a work of art is one of objective contemplation. At its core, then, beauty is a contested concept, and both sides feel comfortable appealing to the authority of Plato, and via him, to the ancient Greeks generally. So, who is right-if either?

Beauty offers an elegant investigation of ancient Greek notions of beauty and, in the process, sheds light on how we ought to appreciate the artistic achievements of the classical world. The book opens by reexamining the commonly held notion that the ancient Greeks possessed no term that can be unambiguously defined as beauty or beautiful. Author David Konstan discusses a number of Greek approximations before positioning the heretofore unexamined term kallos as the key to bridging the gap between beauty and desire, and tracing its evolution as applied to physical beauty, art, literature, and more. The book then examines corresponding terms in Biblical Hebrew and ancient Latin literature to highlight the survival of Greek ideas in the Latin West. The final chapter compares the ancient Greek conception of beauty with modern notions of beauty and aesthetics. In particular, it focuses on the reception of classical Greek art in the Renaissance and how Vasari and his contemporaries borrowed from Plato the sense that the beauty in art was transcendental, but left out the erotic dimension of viewing. Even if Greece was the inspiration for modern aesthetic ideals, this study illustrates how the Greek view of the relationship between beauty and desire was surprisingly consistent-and different from our own. This fascinating and magisterial exploration makes it possible to identify how the Greeks thought of beauty, what it was that attracted them, and what their perceptions can still tell us about art, love, desire-and beauty.
By:   David Konstan (Professor of Classics at New York University and Emeritus Professor of Classics at Brown University)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 213mm,  Width: 147mm,  Spine: 24mm
Weight:   426g
ISBN:   9780199927265
ISBN 10:   019992726X
Series:   Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture
Pages:   280
Publication Date:   12 February 2015
Audience:   College/higher education ,  A / AS level ,  Further / Higher Education
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University and Emeritus Professor of Classics at Brown University. He is the co-editor of the Emotions of the Past series and author or co-editor of 18 books.

Reviews for Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea

David Konstan's book addresses the linguistic roots of the issues around the notion of beauty and offers an impressive analysis and history of the idea of beauty, from Ancient Greece to the present day. Konstan's erudition is striking: with knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, he offers a remarkable examination of the uses of the equivalent words for beauty in classical literature, the Bible, and beyond. * Ines Morais, Forma de Vida * Konstan also brings a considerable amount of recent scholarship into the discussion, making Beauty a valuable book for students of philosophy or Classics. * Lucia Marchini, Minerva * A breathtakingly wide view of beauty as the ancient Greeks conceived it, from Homer to the Septuagint, and from Plato to Derrida and Bourdieu - this is the work of a scholar with an immense command of classical literature and its legacy in our own time. This book should be required reading for anyone working in aesthetics, ancient or modern. Readers will never again be able to imagine beauty shorn completely of its historical ties to passion and desire. * Paul Woodruff, The University of Texas at Austin * An eloquent contribution to the new literature on beauty. Konstan asks a basic question: How well do ancient notions of beauty translate into our modern lexicon? The result is a rich sampling of sources from Homer to the Hebrew Bible to the Byzantine Church Fathers, expertly traced through a series of philological probes. Because ancient beauty was not limited to art or reduced to a focal concept of any kind, looking into the past like this provides a valuable and often surprising reminder of the limits of our own aesthetic intuitions. Konstan's study will be a critical resource for anyone interested in this fascinating set of issues. * James I. Porter, University of California at Irvine * Only a scholar as sure-footed as Konstan would attempt such a philologically rigorous inquiry in a book series targeted at general readers (Oxford's acclaimed Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture) ... Somehow, Konstan carries it off, keeping up a brisk pace as he leads his readers, text by text, through the maze, briefly and breezily contextualizing each new passage as it comes in view. * James Romm, Times Literary Supplement *

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