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On Grace And Dignity
by [?]

The Greek fable attributes to the goddess of beauty a wonderful girdle which has the quality of lending grace and of gaining hearts in all who wear it. This same divinity is accompanied by the Graces, or goddesses of grace. From this we see that the Greeks distinguished from beauty grace and the divinities styled the Graces, as they expressed the ideas by proper attributes, separable from the goddess of beauty. All that is graceful is beautiful, for the girdle of love winning attractions is the property of the goddess of Cnidus; but all beauty is not of necessity grace, for Venus, even without this girdle, does not cease to be what she is.

However, according to this allegory, the goddess of beauty is the only one who wears and who lends to others the girdle of attractions. Juno, the powerful queen of Olympus, must begin by borrowing this girdle from Venus, when she seeks to charm Jupiter on Mount Ida [Pope’s “Iliad,” Book XIV. v. 220]. Thus greatness, even clothed with a certain degree of beauty, which is by no means disputed in the spouse of Jupiter, is never sure of pleasing without the grace, since the august queen of the gods, to subdue the heart of her consort, expects the victory not from her own charms but from the girdle of Venus.

But we see, moreover, that the goddess of beauty can part with this girdle, and grant it, with its quality and effects, to a being less endowed with beauty. Thus grace is not the exclusive privilege of the beautiful; it can also be handed over, but only by beauty, to an object less beautiful, or even to an object deprived of beauty.

If these same Greeks saw a man gifted in other respects with all the advantages of mind, but lacking grace, they advised him to sacrifice to the Graces. If, therefore, they conceived these deities as forming an escort to the beauty of the other sex, they also thought that they would be favorable to man, and that to please he absolutely required their help.

But what then is grace, if it be true that it prefers to unite with beauty, yet not in an exclusive manner? What is grace if it proceeds from beauty, but yet produces the effects of beauty, even when beauty is absent. What is it, if beauty can exist indeed without it, and yet has no attraction except with it? The delicate feeling of the Greek people had marked at an early date this distinction between grace and beauty, whereof the reason was not then able to give an account; and, seeking the means to express it, it borrowed images from the imagination, because the understanding could not offer notions to this end. On this score, the myth of the girdle deserves to fix the attention of the philosopher, who, however, ought to be satisfied to seek ideas corresponding with these pictures when the pure instinctive feeling throws out its discoveries, or, in other words, with explaining the hieroglyphs of sensation. If we strip off its allegorical veil from this conception of the Greeks, the following appears the only meaning it admits.

Grace is a kind of movable beauty, I mean a beauty which does not belong essentially to its subject, but which may be produced accidentally in it, as it may also disappear from it. It is in this that grace is distinguished from beauty properly so called, or fixed beauty, which is necessarily inherent in the subject itself. Venus can no doubt take off her girdle and give it up for the moment to Juno, but she could only give up her beauty with her very person. Venus, without a girdle, is no longer the charming Venus, without beauty she is no longer Venus.

But this girdle as a symbol of movable beauty has this particular feature, that the person adorned with it not only appears more graceful, but actually becomes so. The girdle communicates objectively this property of grace, in this contrasting with other articles of dress, which have only subjective effects, and without modifying the person herself, only modify the impression produced on the imagination of others. Such is the express meaning of the Greek myth; grace becomes the property of the person who puts on this girdle; she does more than appear amiable, it is so in fact.