Plotinus on sculpting the self

In Enneads I 6, 9, Plotinus writes,

Go back inside yourself and look: if you do not yet see yourself as beautiful [i.e., as participating in the Idea of Beauty], then do as the sculptor does with a statue he wants to make beautiful; he chisels away one part, and levels off another, makes one spot smooth and another clear, until he shows forth a beautiful face on the statue. Like him, remove what is superfluous, straighten what is crooked, clean up what is dark and make it bright, and never stop sculpting your own statue, until the godlike splendor of virtue shines forth to you…. If you have become this, and seen it, and become pure and alone with yourself, with nothing now preventing you from becoming one in this way, and have nothing extraneous mixed with your self… if you see that this is what you have become, then you have become a vision.

Thus, on this analogy, removing the inessential reveals to one the ‘godlike splendor of virtue.’ The technique (by which I mean: spiritual exercise) does not mean modeling oneself upon another; it is not about accepting oneself as one is; it is not about willing oneself to be other than one’s nature would allow; it is not mimicry. None of these but the slow, attentive, and gentle ‘chiseling away’ of one’s vices, one’s clumsinesses, and one’s uglinesses with the result that one can, only now, participate in the Idea of Beauty. Look to the coursenesses. Let them all go. Then will you not espy a vision close-up or from afar since now it is that ‘you have become a vision.’ You are mystical art.

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