But I am a great admirer of beauty myself. For, in the contests [at Athens] for the prize of manliness, they select the handsomest, and give them the post of honour to bear the sacred vessels at the festivals of the gods. And at Elis there is a contest as to beauty, and the conqueror has the vessels of the goddess given to him to carry; and the next handsomest has the ox to lead, and the third places the sacrificial cakes on the head of the victim. But Heraclides Lembus relates that in Sparta the handsomest man and the handsomest woman have special honours conferred on them; and Sparta is famous for producing the handsomest women in the world. On which account they tell a story of king Archidamus, that when one wife was offered to him who was very handsome, and another who was ugly but rich, and he chose the rich one, the Ephori imposed a fine upon him, saying that he had preferred begetting kinglings rather than kings for the Spartans. And Euripides has said—
And in Homer, the old men among the people marvelling at the beauty of Helen, are represented as speaking thus to one another— [p. 906]
Her very mien is worthy of a kingdom.From the Aeolus.
And even Priam himself is moved at the beauty of the woman, though he is in great distress. And also he admires Agamemnon for his beauty, and uses the following language respecting him—
They cried, "No wonder such celestial charms
For nine long years have set the world in arms;—
What winning graces! what majestic mien!
She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen."Illiad, iii. 156.
And many nations have made the handsomest men their kings on that account. As even to this day that Aethiopian tribe called the Immortals does; as Bion relates in his History of the Affairs of Aethiopia. For, as it would seem, they consider beauty as the especial attribute of kings. And goddesses have contended with one another respecting beauty; and it was on account of his beauty that the gods carried off Ganymede to be their cupbearer—
Say, what Greek is he
Around whose brow such martial graces shine,—
So tall, so awful, and almost divine?
Though some of larger stature tread the green,
None match his grandeur and exalted mien.Ib. iii. 170.
And who are they whom the goddesses have carried off? are they not the handsomest of men? And they cohabit with them; as Aurora does with Cephalus and Clitus and Tithonus; and Ceres with Jason; and Venus with Anchises and Adonis. And it was for the sake of beauty also that the greatest of the gods entered through a roof under the form of gold, and became a bull, and often transformed himself into a winged eagle, as he did in the case of Aegina. And Socrates the philosopher, who despised everything, was, for all that, subdued by the beauty of Alcibiades; as also was the venerable Aristotle by the beauty of his pupil Phaselites. And do not we too, even in the case of inanimate things, prefer what is the most beautiful? The fashion, too, of Sparta is much praised, I mean that of displaying their virgins naked to their guests; and in the island of Chios it is a beautiful sight to go to the gymnasia and the race-courses, and to see the young men wrestling naked with the maidens, who are also naked. [p. 907]
The matchless Ganymede, divinely fair,
Whom Heaven, enamour'd, snatch'd to upper air.Ib. xx. 234.