Geburt der Venus, by Odilon Redon
…beauty is an ontological necessity, grounding the sensate particularity of the world. Without Aphrodite, the world of particulars becomes atomic particles. Life’s detailed variety is called chaos, multiplicity, amorphous matter, statistical data. Such is the world of sense without Aphrodite. Then sense must be made of appearance by abstract philosophical means – which distorts philosophy itself from its true base (The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, by James Hillman, p.45).
The old proverb, “Beauty is only skin deep,” attributed to Sir Thomas Overbury (1581-1613), is far from the truth. Sir Thomas was only thinking of carnal allurements when he coined this phrase. True beauty, as I stated earlier, is an essential characteristic of Soul. Without it, there is no Soul in this universe, nor any other. Western thinking, over the centuries, has stripped Beauty of its true value and meaning. By Sir Thomas’ day, it meant no more than a pretty lady, a handsome gentleman, or some superficial material object.
Whenever Soul is presented to the senses, be it through a walk in the forest, a lovely sunset, or the smell after a Spring rain, the Goddess, Aphrodite, is unveiled to us. The truth we learn when experiences like these occur is that Soul is Aphroditic in nature. We usually think of Aphrodite as the Goddess of love and beauty; that is true, but what did the Greeks think and believe about Her? How did they understand Her gifts to the world?
Aphrodite was born, of course, when Cronus castrated Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea. Aphrodite emerged from the sea foam that formed around them. One of her names is, Anadiomeni, “one who emerges.” This sense of emergence is quite important in understanding the nature of Soul and its accompanying Beauty.
James Hillman writes,
In pursuing what we mean by beauty we are obstructed by the word beauty itself. It strikes the ear as so effete, so ineffectual, lovely and etheric, so far removed from the soul’s desperate concerns. Again we see how our notions are determined by archetypal patterns, as if beauty had become relegated only to Apollo, the examination of invisible forms like music, belonging to collectors and subject to disputes in journals of aesthetics. Or, beauty has been given over wholly to the soft hands of Adonis and Paris, beauty as violets, mutilation and death. In Plato and Plotinus, however, beauty does not have this glabrous, passive and ungenerative sense at all, and it is rarely brought into relation with art. In fact beauty is not ‘beautiful’ and Socrates’ person is witness. Rather, the beautiful in Platonic thought can only be understood if we can enter an Aphroditic cosmos and this in turn means penetrating into the ancient notion of aisthesis (sense-perception) from which aesthetics derives (ibid., p. 41-42).
I don’t know about you, but I want to enter this “Aphroditic cosmos.” It is not far off somewhere in another world; it is right here, where we are! We just need to learn to open ourselves to the Aphroditic experience, the emerging and unconcealing of Her beauty in her role as Anima Mundi. I believe this level of experience occurs when Soul mediates sensory data via the Imagination, transforming the experience into a powerful noumenal encounter with the Gods. How difficult it is to put these things into words!
This is what the Romantic poets discovered in their day. Read these words of Goethe and feel how Soul brings these images to life in your heart. Soul makes these images live to the point of becoming sensate, to where there is no separation between physical sense and spiritual sense:
Now I leave this little hut,
Where my beloved lives,
Walking now with veiled steps
Through the shadowy leaves.
Luna shines through bush and oak,
Zephyr proclaims her path,
And the birch trees bowing low
Shed incense on her track.
How beautiful the coolness
Of this lovely summer night!
How the soul fills with happiness
In this true place of quiet!
I can scarcely grasp the bliss!
Yet, Heaven, I would shun
A thousand nights like this,
If my darling granted one (Goethe, The Lovely Night).
This is Soul. This is Aphrodite’s emergence from the world.