Can Narcissism Partially Explain the Cult of Beauty in Latin Cultures?

Fernando Roca Rey, a Peruvian Torero

Conrad Phillips. Hi Man of Roma, I just came across your blog as I was learning about polyphonic music. I bookmarked your interest in Montaigne and like the Platonic dialogue connection (…) How does Montaigne and narcissism fit into your background? [here the original conversation, MoR]

Man of Roma. Well, narcissism was a sort of a jest in my bio info page, although there is some annoying narcissism in the Mediterranean people, living in the sun, something for example the Britons, from clouds and rough weather, reproach us, not without reason.

But the beauty of classical or Renaissance art cannot be quite understood without considering a certain narcissistic component, in my view. Works of art (like Palladio’s villas or palaces, for example, see the London exhibition) were mainly for great families who sought distinction, éclat. The elegance of a Julius Caesar (here is a post considering this aspect of him), or of most toreros for example, or of the French, who love to correct foreigners who speak their language, can be explained by some vanity as well. It may be a Roman and Greek thing, I don’t want to ennoble it, quite the contrary, but it is in us [see below Narcissus by the painter Caravaggio, 1571 – 1610].

Narcissus by Caravaggio. Click for credits

Montaigne is a constant dialogue I have. He mythicizes the ancient world as much as I do, he talks of himself without any self-love, a sort of high level country philosopher, and a spontaneous philosopher.

I often prefer ideas that unfold, like his do, through scattered notes rather than finished books, more sedentary in my view and less thought provoking.

Ψ

Related posts:

“Italy Was, And Is, Vain”

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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Before I comment let me tell u I didnt read ur old posts nor do I have any idea about art.
    I was intrigued by the question in the title so I am commenting. I am so scared that I may sound foolish :)

    I don’t know if I am correct but we had read in history books that the Greeks were proud of their good looking features. Isn’t the word Hellenic related to “god like”?

    So my point is that all the old cultures who have quite a history (not necessarily only of Latin origin) tend to be narcissistic about the beauty in their culture, in their art, language, music everything. The narcissism is due to the existing beauty not vice versa.

  2. @Reema

    Dear Reema,

    I confess that the origin of the word Hellenic is mysterious to me. Maybe Paul, of Greek descent, can shed some light. God-like seems fascinating. To my knowledge the Greeks, as you say, were proud of beauty and also linked it to being ‘good’. This had consequences in the West, where many heroes and heroines (even in cartoons and movies) are both beautiful and good, like Cinderella, whose step-sisters are instead ugly and wicked. Something highly unfair, originated by societies governed by elites who ate better, had nobler souls (high education etc.) and better looks via selection of the best mates. The Romans were no different.

    Yours seems a good point to me: a person (or a people) producing something valuable and beautiful tends to admire one’s result, hence to love oneself. True, the richness of our culture makes us proud etc.

    But it seems also that behaviours producing beauty, such as playing or composing music, painting, dancing etc. can have the joint (or unique, very bad lol) motivation of being admired, more or less close to self-love. Many artists are known to be very narcissistic. So the possible link between beauty and narcissism could be two-way. We produce beauty, hence we love ourselves. We love ourselves (we need to draw admiration etc.) hence we produce beauty.

    Possible link I said, since not all artists are narcissistic. Usually the really great ones are also great men. Who wrote the Mahabharata or the Iliad couldn’t be that vile, that conceited. So great people on one end, and the vainglorious at the other end. Sometimes civilizations at their decadence are vainglorious.

    PS
    I had to rewrite my reply 5 times, clear evidence I found your question complex. I broke my comment into two parts.

  3. O.K., I have been challenged. I made some research, since my knowledge of Greek is limited to my classical studies, over 60 years ago. I have consulted several sources on the Web. All agree: Hellas, hellen and hellenic have a religious source and the word is related to Hêlios (the sun). Since they called themselves after the sun god it must have been somewhat narcissistic.
    However let’s not forget that when you get to the roots of ethnic community names, whichever way you look at them, they basically mean THE MAN OR THE LIVING OR THE GREAT ONE. Yep, narcissistic.

  4. By the way, Latium or Latin seemingly come from a indo-european word, STELA, meaning to spread, probably related to flat land. Well suited for an empire.

    MoR: well, coming from a flat land, this is why they risked a lot when they first met the hardy mountain people close by (Marsi, Samnites etc.) and had to fight for their life.

  5. @Paul

    Interesting, Paul. Now I know what Hellas means. The sun God, hence Apollo probably. So Reema was right. And you made me also laugh. What is yours, Paul, French, Greek or Canadian humour? I can perceive a subtle French irony, but I might be wrong.

    @Reema
    Paul is half Greek and half French as descent, born Canadian, French mother-tongue. Fluent in English. Actually bilingual. Very complicated to define, as you can notice. :-)

  6. MoR, no irony meant. I guess my humour, like Canada, is multicultural. I agree I’m tough to pigeonhole.

  7. @Paul
    Paul, I meant irony as humour, in a good sense, not in a bad way. I believed I did spot some French humour (my father called it French irony, and it stuck with me), which I love, but was not sure. Something different in any case. I like it.

  8. Ever since I wrote this post: http://alchemistpoonam.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/23-western-masterpieces-that-you-must-know/

    I am looking to find out about more painters and art. I have clicked and read every wikipedia page you have linked here. Thanks for the links! I will come back when I go through them complete.

    Poonam, you are very kind and I’m glad you stopped by. I’ll fly to your page (which I had browsed already). As for humanities, remember that I’m more into literature, music, history etc. Why then do I talk about Palladio, Caravaggio, figurative art? I don’t know, but you can call me The Great Pretender :-)

  9. Don’t worry Man of Roma, let me conquer the world and then we’ll have the single culture of Aphrodite everywhere! :P

    Wow dude, you mean that when you reach world power that will be the main activity of your reign? Spreading the word of sweet Aphrodite? Well, since you nominated me as the Chief Historian of your Empire, I’ll take special care that those rites be carefully recreated. I promise you a meticulous historian job, don’t worry. :-)

    PS
    I don’t know why I continue to clumsily joke in a language I don’t master enough. And you know that I’m starting to prefer Athena to Aphrodite. It’s also a question of age, after all.
    :-)

  10. @Reema

    In any case, talking about civilizations and not individuals, narcissism being close to egotism, selfishness, autism, it can in my opinion generate a tendency to closing up towards others, in rich heritages such as the Indian, the Chinese, the Latin, the Arabic etc. This seems in fact happening everywhere, in France even more than in Italy, as an example.

    I was discussing on this with Ashish one year ago. At that time he was almost the only Indian really interacting with me. He more or less argued: “Rich cultures are like noble gasses, they tend not to mix with others.” A witty metaphor, noble gas.

    I strongly believe in dialogue, conciliation. It is not easy to talk to different cultures (misunderstandings etc., I also sometimes am worried in oriental blogs). But it is a worthwhile effort, and especially vital now that we risk a clash of civilizations nightmare.

    Thank you for your comment Reema.

    PS
    These two comments … I have flooded you. :-(
    I’m Latin, I’m narcissistic …

  11. I am glad to know that I have retained some knowledge from all those history books after all!! Tough considering all these years of technical education :) Thanks Paul.

    MoR, u know its one thing to have a rich culture and be proud of it and totally another thing to be a frog in the well. And as India is seeing now, culture is being over hyped and all sorts of misdeeds are being done in the name of culture. God knows what is going to happen on 14 Feb in India. All because Valentine’s Day is not Indian culture. Of course burning women for dowry is!!
    For me Indian culture is where we respect our elders, our parents look out for us always, we take care of them in their old age, we think of our guests as gods, we believe in togetherness of family, of siblings, of friends, in sacrifice, in compromise, we believe in hard work…Indian culture is the passage of art, craft, knowledge, traditions. rites, rituals, festivals,recipes from generation to another generation.
    Here is an interesting link.
    http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=-ogqhZJ_-ps

  12. Forgot to mention the link is a scene from a Hindi movie.

  13. Namaste, Reema

  14. Namaste Costopoulos :)

  15. @Reema

    I didn’t understand if the movie (Namaste London?) you link to is considered by you as an example of over hyped Indian culture or not. In general today cultural pride is over hyped everywhere, while culture in my view should bring people together.
    I hope my blog is not seen as an inconsiderate exaltation of the ancient Romans. I wrote a post on *this aspect* which of course doesn’t automatically prove I am not ‘over hyping’ our civilization roots.

  16. Oh I see it in a good sense i.e.patriotism. Actually the scene starts from a Britisher making fun of India and saying its a land of snake charmers. Then the hero who is from a village back in India asks the girl to translate while he tells some facts about India.
    I gave the link as a good example of what Indian culture is.

  17. @Reema
    Ok, not having seen the movie I couldn’t put that scene in the context of the whole movie, so I was afraid of saying something silly. Thanks Reema!

  18. Something off the main topic:
    “French, who love to correct foreigners who speak their language”
    Do Italians do that too?
    I have not come across French people doing that in a bad way… I found them rather encouraging, no matter how broken, they like it better if one tried to speak French, rather than try to get them to speak broken English!
    In India, we have many languages, and sometimes the Hindi speaking people of North make fun of people from other states, who do not speak Hindi well or with proper accent!
    So, what can I say!
    There are various forms of narcissism everywhere!

  19. @Nomad

    Ah, true Nomad, narcissism is everywhere. I cannot speak about India, but I think the French (who I love) have a bit this problem of the French language having been dethroned by English as international lingua franca, as you also suggest, therefore they react in various way. As far as I know, sometimes they correct people, but they are mostly kind and like when one speaks their language, no matter how.
    No, as far as I know Italians never correct foreigners. When one speaks Italian they are often surprised.

  20. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  21. [...] a previous post we had supposed a connection between artistic beauty and narcissism in Italian and Latin [...]

  22. [...] “There may be some narcissism (see 1, 2), or this ‘wanting to show them’ [...]

  23. I love Caravaggio, and that greek story about Narcissus….but I despise narcisissm!

    • Who doesn’t, Frances – a very annoying trait. Welcome here and best wishes for your blog!

      MoR


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