Tuesday, August 28, 2012


What is beauty?

The philosophers say “id quod visum placet” – that which, when seen, pleases. Beauty is complete, proportional, and radiant, they say.

It’s easy to see what completion and proportionality are. If my left eye is missing or swollen out of proportion, I’m less beautiful.

But what is radiance?

My mother knew. Not so many years ago when I was a child, she read me the story of Cinderella from a picture book. She pointed to a drawing of Cinderella in her rags helping the stepsisters, dressed in their finery, on their way out the door to the ball. Cinderella, of course, was much more beautiful than the stepsisters.

“Do you know why?” my mother asked her melancholy daughter. “It’s because she has a smile on her face.”

I looked, and of course it was true.

Maybe that’s what philosophers mean by “radiance,” that elusive and undefinable characteristic of beauty – maybe they mean joy.

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