Since we recently added listings to our Etsy and are working hard to get our brand and corresponding philosophy out there, we thought we’d take the time to explain the origin of our brand name a bit more. And what better time to explain the meaning of Kalon—the Greek word for beauty—than on Valentine’s Day!
Kalon, in the Ancient Greek lexicon, doesn’t only mean “beauty”. It also has a moral connotation of “goodness”. Hence, kalon signifies not only beauty associated with bodies, but more importantly, it points to the importance of caring for beauty and goodness of the soul. This dual meaning of the word is referenced in Plato’s dialogue, The Symposium. (INSERT NERD EMOJI HERE!)
In The Symposium, Socrates (said as SO-CRATES a la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) attends what is supposed to be a drinking party in honor of the tragic playwright Agathon (dude had just won the equivalent of an Oscar for best tragedy). But since those present (excepting Socrates) had already drank too much the previous night, Phaedrus (a character whose name also appears as a title of another erotic Platonic dialogue) suggests that they give praise to the god of love, Eros, instead of getting into the heavy drinking (right away at least!). Eros was a god whose origin and myth, even at that time, was not exceptionally clear. So, there is very little agreement amongst the party-goers as to what the nature of Eros—Love—is. Hmmm, are we so different today? What is love?! (queue the Haddaway song!).
Since it was Phaedrus’ idea, he goes first. Borrowing from Hesiod, he praises Eros as one of the primordial gods who cherishes those who are willing to die for their beloveds (You know, like how Prince says “I Would Die 4 U”).
But the others do not agree with this characterization of Eros. Some dispute that Eros was one god and others posit that he was two—there is a common, hubristic type of love that breeds jealousy and is tied to sex and there is a noble type of love that breeds virtue. Aristophanes (the comedic playwright, not the Taiwanese rapper) depicts Eros as the god who causes humans to long for their other-halves. As his story goes, human beings at one point were double: having two heads, two sets of limbs and rotating in a circle upon these four sets of limbs to traverse the earth. These original humans, however, were a bit too wily for their own good. They plotted to take over the gods’ reign of Mount Olympus. When Zeus caught wind of the plans for a coup, he ordered Apollo (god of light and healing) to spit these beings in half so as to make them weaker (by the way, this is why we have belly buttons; that’s where Apollo split and healed these OG humans!). The point is, since we’re really only halves, we are constantly searching for our other halves.
But, Socrates disagrees with everyone, especially Agathon (the man of the hour), who pretty much praises Eros as if he (Agathon) were the god himself! Agathon was a babe, but a total narcissist. Physical beauty is only skin-deep y’all! Which is pretty much where Socrates stands on the issue.
Socrates credits his understanding of Love to a wise priestess from Mantanea, named Diotima (rumor had it that she cured people of a “plague”; sounds like she was an herbalist who knew the power of plants!). According to her, Eros is not a god at all. Rather, he is a daimon. A daimon is a spiritual being that communicates messages from the gods to the mortals. A daimon possesses a person who then delivers a divine message. Kind of like a medium, but with gods instead of dead people (way cooler than John Edwards). This was the divine logic behind oracles, such as that at Delphi where a young priestess, commonly known as Pythia, would deliver messages from Apollo. It just so happened (in the universe of Plato’s dialogues) that Pythia had told one of Socrates’ friends that he (So-CRATES, that is) was the wisest dude in Athens! But I digress…
…Anyway, that wise guy Socrates, via Diotima, uncovers that Eros is a daimon and not a god. Since he is not a god, he is not immortal, he is not beautiful, he is not anything superlative. But he is also not mortal, ugly, or anything completely lacking. He occupies the in-between. His genesis accounts for this nature. As the story goes, Eros was conceived at Aphrodite’s birth celebration (this is why Eros is so closely associated with Aphrodite, according to Diotima/Socrates). Eros’ pa, Poros (the divine personification of resource) was partying with the rest of the gods and had way too much nectar; he fell asleep outside of the party. Along came Eros’ ma, Penia (the personification of lack), and saw Poros in his vulnerable state, and took advantage of him. Thus, Eros was conceived and took on the nature that he did.
Since Eros is neither beautiful nor good, but isn’t completely lacking in beauty or goodness, he longs for these. He has a taste of what true, complete beauty and goodness are, but does not fully possess these. Thus, he seeks them out. This is the role of Eros for Socrates in philosophy, which he refers to elsewhere as the “erotic art”. This too he learned from Diotima: Eros is the personification of desire as such; “he” makes people seek out beauty and goodness in others, themselves, and everything there is. First we seek beauty in its physical manifestations—in the bodies of others. But after some time, we realize that this is not true beauty (who hasn’t been attracted to someone physically to only find out that that person lacks substance and integrity?). So with this dissatisfaction, we are driven to seek out beauty in acts (the way about someone or something), then in bits of knowledge (the beauty in understanding laws of physics or expertise in a craft. Eventually we yearn to experience Beauty itself (το καλον), which nourishes the soul. But this only comes with being open—to receive others and the ultimate Beauty that they remind us of. So, philosophy in this sense is not understood as some serious academic pursuit (no tweed or PhD required), but is rather the way of Eros—of going beyond the normal conceptions of not only physical beauty, but of the way one should live and how one should be with others. It’s about journeying out together with those you love on a path towards what is beautiful and good.
And we think that really speaks to what we are trying to do here at Kalon Botanicals. We’re a group of friends who, with love for each other, the natural world, and the people who inhabit it, are trying to seek out the beauty in doing things yourself, of being mindful of how we as consumers have a real impact on the earth and other people, and how we can care for physical beauty while also caring for the soul. Let Eros fill your hearts with the desire to do good and be beautiful on this Valentine’s Day and every day!
P.S. The Symposium ends with a very drunk Alciabides crashing the party. You know…that guy!