Belmont Club

The Tyranny of Beauty

One little remarked aspect of the Paul Ryan vice presidential choice (which was pointed out to me by my wife) was that in Romney and Ryan the GOP had two handsome candidates of about 6’2″ in height. Why should it matter? It shouldn’t, but the Bible tells us that it always has. One of Saul’s qualifications for leadership was that he was rock-star handsome and tall. “He had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.”

By all accounts King David wasn’t bad looking himself. One wonders how different the history of Israel — and the world — would have been if King David had looked like Danny DeVito instead of Richard Gere. I had never thought of it until my wife drily mentioned the circumstance to me, but come to think of it, how many women watch the NBA in part to see Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant. Would as many have paid to watch Marty Feldman, even if he were a good basketball player? Maybe, maybe not.

There is both the potential for glory and tragedy in the handsome man. For if nothing quite attracts, nothing quite betrays like beauty. How did that 2,000 year old book of delusions put it?

In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head–he used to cut his hair from time to time when it became too heavy for him–he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard …

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Humanity has an almost inborn attraction to nobility of physical appearance, perhaps in the hope that it reflects an inner constitution. Too bad they don’t always go together. Only sometimes do the two characteristics coincide. And perhaps the public’s attraction for beauty is because that is how we remember the truly great when they have passed, whether they looked or didn’t look the part.

Then going to the house of the kings in the silent street, Aragorn laid him down on the long bed that had been prepared for him. There he said farewell to Eldarion, and gave into his hands the winged crown of Gondor and sceptre of Arnor; and then all left him save Arwen, and she stood alone by his bed. And for all her wisdom and lineage she could not forbear to plead with him to stay yet for a while. She was not yet weary of her days, and thus she tasted the bitterness of the mortality that she had taken upon her.

“Lady Undómiel,” said Aragorn, “the hour is indeed hard, yet it was made even in that day when we met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond, where none now walk. And on the hill of Cerin Amroth when we forsook both the Shadow and the Twilight this doom we accepted. Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady, I am the last of the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Eldar Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep.

I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. the uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than a memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.”

“Nay, dear lord,” she said, “that choice is long over. There is now no ship to bear me hence, and I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Númenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.”

“So it seems,” he said. “But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound forever in the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory, Farewell!”

“Estel, Estel!” she cried, and with that even as he took her hand and kissed it, he fell into sleep. Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him with wonder; for they saw the grace of his youth, and the valor of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were all blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.


Belmont Commenters
How to Publish on Amazon’s Kindle for $2.99
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

Tip Jar or Subscribe for $5