Quotations about   ugliness

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Your lady friends are ill to see,
All old or ugly as can be,
And in their company you go
To banquet, play, and portico;
This hideous background you prepare
To seem, by contrast, young and fair.

[Omnes aut vetulas habes amicas
Aut turpes vetulisque foediores.
Has ducis comites trahisque tecum
Per convivia, porticus, theatra.
Sic formosa, Fabulla, sic puella es.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 8, epigram 79 (8.79) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921), “The Contrast”]
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"To Fabulla." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

All thy companions aged beldames are,
Or more deform'd than age makes any, far:
These cattle at thy heels thou trail'st always
To public walks, to suppers, and to plays.
'Cause when with such alone we thee compare,
Thou canst be said, Fabulla, young or fair.
[tr. Killigrew (1695)]

All the companions of her grace, I'm told,
Are either very plan, or very old.
With these she visits: these she drags about,
To play, to ball, assembly, auctions, rout:
With these she sups: with these she takes the air.
Without such foils is lady dutchess fair?
[tr. Hay (1755)]

Old women are thine only friends;
     Or rivals, safe as they.
No other face thy face attends,
     To table, porch or play.
Fabulla, thus thou beauteous art,
     And thus thou still art young.
Oh! solace to my eyes impart;
     Or silence to my tongue.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 6, Part 3, ep. 94]

All your female friends are either old or ugly; nay, more ugly than old women usually are. These you lead about in your train, and drag with you to feasts, porticoes, and theatres. Thus, Fabulla, you seem handsome, thus you seem young.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

All the female friends you have are either old crones or ugly, and fouler than old crones. These, as your companions, you conduct and drag about with you through parties, colonnades, theaters. In this way, Fabulla, you are lovely, in this way young.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

The friends that old Fabulla owns
Are harridans and ancient crones,
Ill-favored witches, what you will;
These are her constant comrades still
To banquets, theatres, and shows;
So ever fair and young she goes.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), ep. 442]

The only female friends she has
     Are old or ugly crows.
These she drags along with her
     To parties, visits, shows.
So it's no cause for wonder that
     Amidst such company
She's young, attractive, beautiful --
     Almost a joy to see!
[tr. Marcellino (1968)]

Her women friends are all old hags
Or, worse, hideous girls. She drags
Them with her everywhere she goes --
To parties, theaters, porticoes.
Clever Fabulla! Set among
Those foils you shine, even look young.
[tr. Michie (1972)]

With women you keep company
Who are ugly as can be.
These ancient frights you take along
To show off in your social throng.
You hope that we will make compare,
So even you look young and fair.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

All your friends are ancient hags
or eyesores uglier than those.
These are the company you drag
to banquets, plays, and porticoes.
Fabulla, when you're seen among
such friends, you're beautiful and young.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

Added on 24-Jul-22 | Last updated 24-Jul-22
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As for Comedy, it is (as has been observed) an imitation of men worse than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort of fault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly. The Ridiculous may be defined as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, for instance, that excites laughter, is something ugly and distorted without causing pain.

[ἡ δὲ κωμῳδία ἐστὶν ὥσπερ εἴπομεν μίμησις φαυλοτέρων μέν, οὐ μέντοι κατὰ πᾶσαν κακίαν, ἀλλὰ τοῦ αἰσχροῦ ἐστι τὸ γελοῖον μόριον. τὸ γὰρ γελοῖόν ἐστιν ἁμάρτημά τι καὶ αἶσχος ἀνώδυνον καὶ οὐ φθαρτικόν, οἷον εὐθὺς τὸ γελοῖον πρόσωπον αἰσχρόν τι καὶ διεστραμμένον ἄνευ ὀδύνης.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Poetics [Περὶ ποιητικῆς, De Poetica], ch. 5 / 1449a (c. 335 BC) [tr. Bywater (1909)]
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Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type -- not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive. To take an obvious example, the comic mask is ugly and distorted, but does not imply pain.
[tr. Butcher (1895)]

Comedy is, as we stated, the portrayal of an inferior class, yet not in all their inferiority, being the ludicrous side of ugliness abstracted. Ludicrousness is the painless and non-destructive variety of the species ugliness of the genus failing; thus, e.g., a ludicrous countenance is ugly and distorted, but not painful.
[tr. Margoliouth (1911)]

Comedy, as we have said, is a representation of inferior people, not indeed in the full sense of the word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly. It consists in some blunder or ugliness that does not cause pain or disaster, an obvious example being the comic mask which is ugly and distorted but not painful.
[tr. Fyfe (1932), sec. 3.4]

Comedy is, as we said, a representation of people who are rather inferior -- not, however, with respect to every kind of vice, but the laughable is [only] a part of what is ugly. For the laughable is a sort of error and ugliness that is not painful and destructive, just as, evidently, a laughable mask is something ugly and distorted without pain.
[tr. Janko (1987), sec. 2.4]

Comedy is, as we said, a mimesis of inferior persons not however that it has to do with the whole range of wickedness but with what is funny -- an aspect of ugliness. A funny thing, to be precise, is a clumsy mistake that is not painful or destructive: or to take an obvious example, the comic mask is ugly and grotesque but not repulsive or painful.
[tr. Whalley (1997)]

Comedy, as we said, is an imitation of people of a lower sort, though not in respect to every vice; rather, what is ridiculous is part of what is ugly. For the ridiculous is a certain sort of missing the mark and a deformity that is painless and not destructive; an immediate example is the comic mask, which is something deformed and misshapen without causing pain.
[tr. Sachs (2006)]

Comedy is, as we said, representation of people who are inferior but not wholly vicious: the ridiculous is one category of the embarrassing. What is ridiculous is some error embarrassment that is neither painful nor life-threatening; for example, a comic mask is ugly and distorted but does not cause pain.
[tr. Kenny (2013)]

Added on 7-May-21 | Last updated 26-Jul-22
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No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions of light and shade, or proximity to other things, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
Lecture to Art Students, Royal Academy, London (30 Jun 1883)
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Added on 17-Mar-21 | Last updated 17-Mar-21
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To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss-German artist
Diary 3, #759 (Mar 1906)
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Added on 7-Oct-20 | Last updated 7-Oct-20
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The universe could have been created ugly, and would have functioned. And yet there is beauty everywhere in creation. Beauty gives us an ache, to be worthy of that creation.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
Comments at Wellesley College (20 Oct 2010)
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The last phrase is frequently paraphrased, "We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it."
Added on 25-Feb-20 | Last updated 25-Feb-20
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Let a defect, which is possibly but small, appear undisguised. A fault concealed is presumed to be great.

[Simpliciter pateat vitium fortasse pusillum:
Quod tegitur, magnum creditur esse malum]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 3, epigram 42 (3.42) [tr. Bohn’s (1871)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst."
  • "Simple decays men easily pass by, // But, hid, suspect some great deformity" [tr. Anon. (1695)]
  • "Double we see those faults which art would mend, // Plain downright ugliness would less offend." [tr. Sedley]
  • "Let a blemish, which perhaps is small, simply show. The flow which is hidden is deemed greater than it is." [tr. Ker (1919)]
Added on 1-Nov-17 | Last updated 14-Jan-22
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There is hardly any bodily blemish which a winning behaviour will not conceal, or make tolerable; and there is no external grace which ill-nature or affectation will not deform.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 28-Aug-14 | Last updated 28-Aug-14
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Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference,
indifference between life and death.

Wiesel - indifference - wist_info quote

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) Romanian-American novelist, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate.
“One Must Not Forget,” interview by Alvin P. Sanoff, US News & World Report (27 Oct 1986)

See also Nietzsche.
Added on 30-Jul-09 | Last updated 16-Sep-20
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In nature there’s no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deformed but the unkind.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Twelfth Night, Act 3, sc. 4, l. 386ff [Antonio] (1601)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Jun-22
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