Some thoughts on Beauty

The great thing about writing is that you can take a simple word, like beauty, and allow it to take you on a journey to an unexpected place.

At the moment I’m reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (yes, I know I’m about 20 years late) and thinking about the beauty anthology that is now always humming in my brain and I came across a passage about beauty that I thought I’d share. I hope it might inspire some contributors to think about how they might tackle the theme of the anthology. Here it is.

“‘And I believe Aristotle is correct. After all, what are the scenes in poetry graven most on our memories, the ones that we live the most? Precisely these. The murder of Agamemnon and the wrath of Achilles. Dido on the funeral pyre. The daggers and traitors and Caesar’s blood – remember how Suetonius describes his body being borne away on the litter, with one arm hanging down?’

‘Death is the mother of beauty,’ said Henry.

‘And what is beauty?’

‘Terror.’

‘Well said,’ said Julian. ‘Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.’

I looked at Camilla, her face bright in the sun, and thought of that line from the Iliad I love so much, about Pallas Athene and the terrible eyes shining.

‘And if beauty is terror,’ said Julian, ‘then what is desire? We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?’

‘To live,’ said Camilla.

‘To live forever,’ said Bunny, chin cupped in palm.

The teakettle began to whistle.

Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.

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