Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Marks of Beauty

Catullus 43 (tr. F.W. Cornish):
I greet you, lady, who have neither a tiny nose, nor a pretty foot, nor black eyes, nor long fingers, nor dry mouth, nor indeed a very refined tongue, you mistress of the bankrupt of Formiae. Is it you who are pretty, as the Province tells us? is it with you that our Lesbia is compared? Oh, this age! how tasteless and ill-bred it is.

Salve, nec minimo puella naso
nec bello pede nec nigris ocellis
nec longis digitis nec ore sicco
nec sane nimis elegante lingua,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
ten provincia narrat esse bellam?
tecum Lesbia nostra comparatur?
o saeclum insapiens et infacetum!
By enumerating what this lady lacks, Catullus tells us what he finds attractive in a woman. I was reminded of Catullus' poem when I read Appendix E (The Blazon of Beauty) of D.B. Wyndham Lewis' biography François Villon (New York: Literary Guild, 1928), p. 397:

In connection with the catalogue of vanished charms contained in the Lament of the Belle Heaulmière it may be of aesthetic interest to consider the Blazon of Beauty which Brantôme collected from the lips of a laughing lady of Toledo. The following thirty excellences (said the Spanish lady) make a woman of perfect and absolute beauty:
Tres cosas blancas: el cuero, los dientes, y las manos.
Tres negras: los ojos, las cejas, y las pestañas.
Tres coloradas: los labios, las maxillas, y las uñas.
Tres lungas: el cuerpo, los cabellos, y los manos.
Tres cortas: los dientes, las orejas, y los pies.
Tres anchas: los pechos, la frente, y el entrecejo.
Tres estrechas: la boca, la cinta, y l'entrada del pie.
Tres gruesas: el braço, el muslo, y la pantorilla.
Tres delgadas: los dedos, los caballos, y los labios.
Tres pequeñas: las tetas, la naris, y la cabeça.
That is to say (I have already modified one series slightly, in deference to modern reticences):
Three things white: the skin, the teeth, and the hands.
Three black: the eyes, the eyebrows, and the eyelashes.
Three rosy: the lips, the cheeks, and the hands.
Three short: the teeth, the ears, and the feet.
Three broad: the breast, the forehead, and the space between the eyebrows.
Three narrow: the mouth, the hair, and the instep.
Three plump: the arm, the thigh, and the calf.
Three fine: the fingers, the hair, and the lips.
Three small: the paps, the nose, and the head.

I corrected a few misprints in the Spanish of Wyndham Lewis' appendix with the help of an edition of Brantôme's works. But both Wyndham Lewis and the Brantôme edition have musto in the eighth line, which I changed to muslo. I'm way out of my league here, since I know little Spanish, but my Spanish-English dictionary has muslo for thigh, not musto.

What Wyndham Lewis left out was a parenthetical expression in the seventh line, which actually reads "Tres estrechas: la boca (l'una y otra), la cinta, y l'entrada del pie." Because this is family-friendly blog, I'll leave it to the reader to figure out the meaning of the unexpurgated line.

Note the coincidences between Catullus' list and that of Brantôme: small nose, long fingers, dark eyes.

In Wyndham Lewis' biography of Villon, I also noted a misprint in the music of the dedication. The crochet at the end of the first system should be a quaver.

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