What is Beauty? A Multidisciplinary Approach to Aesthetic Experience

Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2020)

Abstract

From Physical World to Transcendent God(s): Mediatory Functions of Beauty in Plato, Dante and Rupa Gosvami Dragana Jagušić In various philosophical, religious and mystical traditions, beauty is often related to intellectual upliftment and spiritual ascent, which suggests that besides its common aesthetic value it may also acquire an epistemic, metaphysical and spiritual meaning or value. I will examine in detail three accounts in which beauty, at times inseparable from desire and love, mediates between physical, intellectual and spiritual levels of existence. Since beauty, in all three accounts, takes on a mediatory role or function,1 I will name these mediations as follows: ancient Greek Eros-mediation or Beauty-mediation (Plato: ca. 429-347 BCE), late medieval Italian Beauty and Love-mediation (Dante Alighieri: 1265-1321) and pre-modern Indian Beauty and Love-mediation (Rūpa Gosvāmi: 1470/90-1564 CE).2 In the first section, I will analyse the stages of Eros or Beauty mediation in Plato; in the second section, I will turn to Dante’s Beauty and Love-mediation and compare it with Plato’s account. In the third section, I will analyse Rūpa’s account of Beauty and Love-mediation in comparison with both Plato and Dante. I will argue that there are certain patterns of mediation mutually shared if not between all three accounts, then at least between two of them. While Plato’s account clearly influenced Dante and was well integrated into Dante’s account, there is no mention or evidence of a pre-modern Bengali theologian influenced by ancient Greek and medieval Italian philosophy and mysticism. However, a strong convergence of elements of Beauty-mediations in Plato and Dante, as well as Beauty and Love-mediations in Dante and Rūpa Gosvāmi, confirms the universality of certain features of Beauty and Love-mediation and speaks in support of an all-inclusive account of them.3 1 By Beauty-mediation I mean an aesthetic, intellectual or spiritual reconciliation between opposites, such as human and divine, mortal and immortal, particular and universal, sexual and sacred and so on. 2 Rūpa Gosvāmi was an Indian theologian. More information about him is provided in section 3. 3 I am here applying transitivity: if Plato’s account (A) shares elements with Dante’s account (B) and if Dante’s account (B) shares those same elements with Rūpa’s account (C), then Plato’s (A) and Rūpa’s (C) accounts share some elements as well. Obviously, all accounts have some different elements not mutually shared, but I will not deal with them here.

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