Categories Quotes

The Science and Culture of Health, Strength, and Beauty

Plato speaks of the three physical virtues—health, strength, and beauty—as joining to form one chorus with the virtues of the soul—piety, courage, temperance, and justice. They all equally symbolize the symmetry of the world-order, the harmony which is reflected both in the physical and in the psychical life of the individual. Even physical culture, as understood by Greek doctors and trainers, was a spiritual thing. It imposed one supreme standard upon men — the duty of preserving a noble and healthy balance between their physical powers. If, then, equality and harmony are the essence of health and all other physical perfections, then ‘health’ comes to mean something greater—it grows into a universal standard of value applying to the whole world and to the whole of life. For its foundations, equality and harmony, are the forces which (according to the ideas underlying this doctrine) create that which is good and right, while pleonexia, aggrandizement, disturbs it. Greek medical science was both the root and the fruit of this doctrine, from which it constantly draws strength and sustenance, and which, despite the variations created by individual or racial characteristics, is the universal view of all classical Greeks. The reason why medicine rose to such a representative position in Greek culture was that it revealed, clearly and impressively, in the sphere most accessible by immediate experience, the inalienable significance of this fundamental Greek ideal. In this higher sense, we may say that the Greek ideal of culture was the ideal of Health.
Werner Jaeger


Jaeger, W. (1986) Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture: Volume III: The Conflict of Cultural Ideals in the Age of Plato. Trans. by Highet, G. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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