Kalos kagathos

unguentarium
Unguentarium © The Trustees of the British Museum

After visiting Pompeii early this year I got the curiosity bug and started researching ancient Roman amphora, which eventually, as most things Roman, lead me to its Greek origin, which in turn (bear with me, almost there…) lead me to this philosophical concept that the ancient Greeks possessed called kalos kagathos.

The chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action.

Werner Jaeger

Initially used by Aristotle – and later by other classical Greek writers – kalos kagathos meant that the object or creation, beyond its practical utility, that is, being good, had to be also beautiful. Just as everything that was beautiful would also have to be of practical use.

The concept of beauty was inseparably linked to the concept of use.

The Greek amphorae is one of the better known examples of kalokagathia. Despite their practical daily use as storage for food and beverages, they also brought on their exterior paintings and drawings artistically worked, making them one of the most representative forms of Greek art known today.