Quodlibet

Beauty & the Vice

by Peter J. Leithart

As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22).

During his courtship with his future wife, a friend wrote a note and cited a Proverb at the end. He meant Proverbs 22:11. He put "Proverbs 11:22." They laugh about it when they tell the story, after some decades of marriage.

The Proverb is not merely about incongruence. The direction of the comparison is critical. Solomon doesn't say that a beautiful woman without discretion is like a painting with a slight blemish, or a statue with a crack.

The flaw is more fundamental. It affects the woman's nature, as it were. Her piggish lack of discretion makes her a pig, and turns her beauty into an unsuitable, grotesquely comic ornament.

Vices, at least some of them, become so basic as to determine what sort of animal we are.

Peter J. Leithart is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and the president of Trinity House Institute for Biblical, Liturgical & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama. His many books include Defending Constantine (InterVarsity), Between Babel and Beast (Cascade), and, most recently, Gratitude: An Intellectual History (Baylor University Press). His weblog can be found at www.leithart.com. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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