The Beautiful Nation: Reflections on the Aesthetics of Hellenism

By Constantinou, Costas M. | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, January-March 2006 | Go to article overview

The Beautiful Nation: Reflections on the Aesthetics of Hellenism


Constantinou, Costas M., Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


An aesthetics of Hellenism affirming an exclusivity and localization of the beautiful oscillates along a political axis from domination to liberation. This article seeks to unsettle such accounts of "the beautiful nation" so as to enable other mediations of the real and the ideal, and thus a more open and heterodox vision of nation and homeland. KEYWORDS: Hellenism, nation, aesthetics, politicization, mythology

**********

  The Greeks: this most beautiful and accomplished, this thoroughly
  sane, universally envied species of man--was it conceivable that they,
  of all people, should have stood in need of tragedy, or, indeed, of
  art?
  --Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

In the Twilight of the Idols, Friedrich Nietzsche extends his iconoclastic meditation on the looks of a great philosophical idol: Socrates. "One knows, one sees for oneself, how ugly he was," Nietzsche declaims, and proceeds to offer a scathing critique of ugliness as "frequently enough the sign of a thwarted development ... retarded by interbreeding," as criminality, "a monster in face, a monster in soul," and as general decadence. "Was Socrates a Greek at all?" he wonders, asserting that among the Greeks ugliness was not just an objection but "almost a refutation." Elsewhere, in more serious vein, Nietzsche reflects on the impact upon the arts of a certain "aesthetic Socratism," which reduces "the beautiful to the intelligible," and accuses Socrates and Plato "as agents of the dissolution of Greece, as pseudo-Greek, as anti-Greek." (1)

Nietzsche is not alone in identifying Greece as a nation that enjoys a special relationship with the beautiful. "We have exiled beauty; the Greeks took up arms for her," declares Albert Camus, by way of lamenting a certain loss in modern European thought. Whereas "our time," "our Europe," feeds "its despair on ugliness and convulsions ... in the pursuit of totality," negating beauty, negating "whatever she does not glorify," the ancient Greeks had a tragic sense of "gilded calamity," of the "stifling quality" of beauty that always implied a balancing limit, the imminent enforcement of cosmic equity. That is why, Camus insists, it is improper for "us" Europeans, incapable of experiencing such erotic sadness, to claim that "we are the sons of Greece." At best, we are "the renegade sons"; at worst, we are moving toward "those whom the Greeks called Barbarians." In the end, Camus reserves honorary Greekness to the artists, whom he views as "[a]ll those who are struggling for freedom to-day [and who] are ultimately fighting for beauty." (2)

A peculiar international struggle is thus staged in contemporary thought, fought over aesthetic terrains. Beautiful, noble, artistic Greeks are set up against monstrous, renegade, anti-Greeks or progressive Barbarians. A creative national genius is elevated and glorified, presented as paradigmatic in matters of art and knowledge.

Romanticizing the (ancient) Greek way of thinking and doing things is, of course, not uncommon in Western Enlightenment thought. The dangers that this posed and continues to pose are well known, whether in legitimating a certain successor civilization with a hard or soft imperial mission of civilizing the ecumene or neglecting the value of other civilizations or afflicting modern Greece with combined complexes of superiority and inferiority. (3) Critics have, fairly enough, become suspicious for whom, by whom, and against whom the beautiful nation could mutate into a nasty artistic dogma or political mission. Yet, what has been less commented upon in current discussions is the transversal side of Hellenism--civilizing fantasy aside and pace Nietzsche and Camus--that articulates a sustained philobarbaric and cosmopolitan vision. (4)

This is not to depict yet another Greek privilege but to underline a general characteristic of reflective cultural practice, one that is rooted in a particular tradition but willing to open up and reinvent itself in its encounter with other traditions, such as, for instance, the cosmopolitanism of Kublai Khan or the creative Hinduism of Mahatma Gandhi. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Beautiful Nation: Reflections on the Aesthetics of Hellenism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.