In this new context, the world was brimming with divine order and meaning. At its heart was a belief in the micro-macro relationship – that the human being was a reflection of the universe, and vice versa. The divine was no longer exclusive to the gods and heavens; it was present throughout all life – and could be experienced through finding harmony in one’s spirit or fulfilling one’s purpose in the cosmos.
Plato was a leader in these philosophical conversations, and began a centuries-long rumination on what we now understand as the three transcendentals: truth, goodness and beauty. The transcendentals were forms of being believed to transcend categories of reality – forms that were common to all people, but also crossed the thresholds to the divine, and existed beyond the changing time-space-matter world.
Through his interactions with Socrates’ teachings, Plato became principally concerned with the Form of the Good, which, in his view, was not a quality or state, but rather the source of all being and that which makes truth perceivable. Good was seen as the origin of being as well as the destination, and could be lived out through proper conduct. Beauty provided the pull towards the good (and therefore the true) by awakening one’s desire.
These ideals – which were objective in their purest sense but could be felt by the noble seeker – inspired people to strive for perfection, and became a framework for living with meaning. They sparked a new social order: one that put ethics at the forefront of daily life and saw structures and laws enacted for the advancement of justice. People oriented away from classism and tribalism, towards the good of the whole.
Curiosity in science and numbers prevailed as people sought to broaden their knowledge and hone their sense of reason. There was also great interest in the aesthetic life: creativity flourished as people turned to poetry, art and music for a fix of beauty.
The pursuit of pleasure through the enjoyment of food was championed by the philosopher Epicurus. He believed that the senses were the most reliable source of knowledge, and that, “The root of every good is the pleasure of the stomach.” For him, food was to be enjoyed simply: fresh fish with lemon and oregano, a seasonal salad dressed in olive oil, a glass of wine with bread and cheese. Simplicity and balance in a meal brought harmony to the spirit.