Greek Ideals: then vs. now (Final Post)

“She craves attention, she praises an image
She prays to be sculpted by the sculptor.” – Scars to your beautiful, Alessia Clara.

In these lyrics, Alsessia Clara outlines a powerful message on the impossible standards society places on beauty. We as a society feel pressured to follow these rules, no matter how unattainable. Although is recognized as a modern issue, driven by the rise of social media and technology, it’s not. Through the discovery and examination of Ancient Greek art, experts have discovered that even 2000 years ago, Greeks had ideal beauty standards, many of which still exist today.

We can get a pretty good understanding of beauty standards by analyzing art. The start of the Classical era began a shift to a more realistic type of sculpture, as opposed to the tense figures seen in the Archaic period. The artists became much more skilled at creating movement in the absence thereof, and they were able to create mood and expression from a blank slate. With the introduction of naturalism, there was also the expression of idealism. Statues became a symbol for humans to look up to.

One of the most influential artists of the Classical Era in Greece was Polykleitos. Through his fixation with beauty, he devised the perfect ratio for human anatomy in his work The Canon (or Kanon in Greek) He used the measurement of a single body part, such as a finger or head, to design an entire figure. These specifications, although considered ideal, were not practical. Human proportions cannot be based off a mathematical equation. The reoccurring theme, however, is that the image that is idealized is not necessarily realistic.

 

scu0256
a Roman marble copy of Doryphoros

 

Arguably Polykleitos’ most famous work is Doryphoros. Constructed from around 450 BCE, the original sculpture did not survive. However, there are many Roman copies that exist. In addition to his symmetria proportion, which for this particular work was a head to body ratio of 1:7, he also used contrapposto. This style allowed the statue to exhibit the essence of movement, by having one leg straight while the other is relaxed. His opposite arm is relaxed while the other is outstretched, originally holding a spear. The opposing structure of the statue created harmony and balance intended for the viewer to enjoy; it wasn’t just a fluke.

Plykleitos was well known for his depiction of male athletes. His idea of the male form was recognized and admired by many. During the Classical Period, the nude male figure was glorified because it was a symbol of heroism. Men would participate in the Olympics nude, and although there are many theories behind why, it was a sight that was enjoyed by Greeks. By today’s standards, it would seem that this act was sexualized, however, it was the opposite. In order to draw eyes from the male sensuality, most sculptors actually deemphasized their genitals. The representation of the nude male through art was not meant to be erotic, but instead, a sign of honour. While sculptors deemphasized the genitals, they accentuated the muscles. Again, athletes and warriors were highly respected, and muscles were a celebrated structure of the body.According to Aristotle, one of the keys to happiness was being athletically built.[1] A beautiful face and body were also considered to be a gift from the gods, which in a society governed by gods, was something to be cherished.[2]

 

alexander-yunayev-by-david-vance003
hopefully this isn’t too explicit, however, I wanted to accurately show the similarities between the ideal nude male in 4th century BCE and today.

 

The ideal male body, in most aspects, has not changed since the 4th century BCE. Men are still expected to maintain the ultimate fit figure. The same ideals depicted on statues from 400 BCE are seen today in men’s fitness magazines. In the same way that art would depict society’s standards, social media conveys today’s standards. By comparing the ideal body from then and now, we can find many similarities. For example, the Greeks idealized the “Apollo’s belt”, which is currently referred to as the “v line”, is a feature which exists heavily in both classical art and modern images. Although attainable naturally, it is extremely difficult. Both societies’ ideas represent standards that either requires extreme dedication or are completely unattainable.

Despite the similarities between Greek and modern society, there are some notable differences. Although the ideal forms are considerably similar, the context in which they are desired differs. In Ancient Greece, the male body was meant to be empowered, not sexualized. Today, however, the male figure is very sexualized, but still empowered. Most modern men would admit that they aspire to feel sexy. With images of half-naked men appearing constantly in advertisements and the media, men feel they need to match up with the images they see. In addition, small male genitals are certainly not desired today; in fact, society seems fixated on having the largest members. The term “sex god” is interesting because although it is a common description of fit men today, there is no evidence that Ancient Greek men used their masculinity in the erotic ways that men do today. Although muscles are still the main attribute of masculinity, modern men use this to depict sexual prowess.

Women had a different standard of beauty than men during the Classical Period. Sculptures of women exhibited a “venus pudica” pose, where they covered their private parts. While men were celebrated for their nudity, women’s nudity was very controversial, and they were expected to display modesty. However, there are very few sculptures of women that survived to this day, so much of the information available is speculation. We do know that according to Aristotle, women were not considered equal to men, with the exception of goddesses, which were worshiped mostly for their beauty.[3]

 

232
a Roman copy of Aphrodite of Knidos – notice how she almost looks awkward, not confident. But she’s the goddess of beauty!

 

The sculpture Aphrodite of Knidos was a surprising shift in the representation of women in art. Originally created in the 4th century by artist Praxiteles, it is credited as one of the first sculptures to depict a realistic nude female figure. Opposite to the deemphasized male genitals, Aphrodite boasted large breasts and coyly covered genitals, which only drew more attention to the area. Men experienced uncontrollable lust for her. Nanette Salomon, an author and history professor, suggests that we have a “history that sexually defines the represented woman by her pubis and, on that account, keeps her in a perpetual state of vulnerability.”[4] Men wanted to see women nude, yet women were not supposed to be nude.

However, if we dismiss the context of oppression, and examine the statues physical body, we can see that her body is very realistic. Her breasts are not exceptionally perky, her stomach has a slight pooch, and she is not too slim. It is a very stark contrast to the rigid muscles of the male statues. Her body is naturally attainable for a woman, yet she still displays her hourglass figure, which is a standard today. Praxiteles sculpted her in contrapposto, but clearly, it was to accentuate her curves. Her skin is smooth, but her body is not contoured in the way that male statues were. It could be said that she’s flawless, but unlike the male counterparts, not perfect by today’s standards.

It is important to realize the difference in the depiction of the nude form between male and female during this time. While men were glorified in their state of nakedness, women were objectified. This has been the norm throughout history, and sometimes even still exists today. Men’s genitals were viewed as unimportant, and not the basis of his character. On the other hand, women’s worth was placed on their genitals. Men’s attractiveness was based on their strength, intelligence, and morals, while women were just admired for their physical beauty.

 

821c17a535d5a050aeed3284a5c19226.jpg
a popular ideal body shape – this woman looks a lot more confident

 

Women today are constantly reminded of society’s beauty standards. Women’s ideals differ from men in the sense that they exist in trends. 20 years ago, it was considered beautiful to be thin. Currently, it is considered beautiful to have a small waist and a large bum. Women’s beauty ideals are always changing, which explains why they are so different from the Classical Period to today. With the introduction of social media and plastic surgery, it is harder to keep up with today’s unrealistic beauty standards. Although male standards in Ancient Greece were also unattainable, ideals reflected through art suggested a preferred aesthetic. However, photoshop in the media has become somewhat of a dilemma because sometimes it can be impossible to tell whether an image is real or enhanced. Women (and men) are tricked into believing that a human body can look a certain way when in reality, it is impossible. However, now that women and men are considered equals in society, they have the freedom to pursue whatever they want, without social restraints. Many women go to the gym to achieve their ideal body, and they do not have to feel ashamed about it.

It is important to note that values themselves do not exist, they are merely objectifications.[5] Though we as humans strive for perfection, the ideals only exist through an idea, which is put in place by society. So, although there are similarities and differences in beauty standards between the Classical Era of Ancient Greece and modern society, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Sources:

1. Demiralp, D. (2008). Reflection of the Social Values in Ancient Greek Art.Ekev Academic Review,12(35).

2. BBC News. Would you be beautiful in the ancient world? (2015, January 10). Retrieved December 4, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30746985

3. Unknown. (n.d.). The Nature of Women in Plato and Aristotle. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from https://www.classicsnetwork.com/essays/the-nature-of-women-in-plato-and/786

4. Salamon, N. (1996). The Venus Pudica: uncovering art history’s ‘hidden agenda’ and pernicious pedigrees. Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts: Feminist Readings. Retrieved December 4, 2017.

5. Demiralp, D. (2008). Reflection of the Social Values in Ancient Greek Art.Ekev Academic Review,12(35).

Stokstad, M. & Cothren, M., Art: A Brief History. Pearson: 2016.

Feng, C. (December 6, 2002). Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://legacy.jyi.org/volumes/volume6/issue6/features/feng.html

Lee, M. M. (2015). Other “Ways of Seeing”: Female Viewers of the Knidian Aphrodite.Helios,42(1), 103-122.

Image of Doryphoros: http://ancientrome.ru/art/artworken/img.htm?id=6967

Male model image: https://mattsko.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/model-alexander-yunayev-by-david-vance/

Aphrodite of Knidos image: http://museum.classics.cam.ac.uk/collections/casts/aphrodite-knidos

Female image: https://www.pinterest.ca/beautyhipster/workout/?lp=true

 

 

The Ideal Man: Hercules?

Although my final post will be discussing Ancient Greek Beauty ideals, in relation to the body ideals today, I will use this post to discuss it in a more informal sense. It seems that throughout history, especially in Ancient Greece, art has been a way to express beauty standards. After over 2000 years, it is interesting to see what has changed, and even more surprisingly, what hasn’t.

Men in the Classical era had pretty strict standards of beauty. It was considered their civic duty to adhere to these standards, although, at times they were unattainable. We saw examples of this in my previous posts about the works Atermision Bronze and Discobolus and will discuss it again, with Hercules and a new subject in my final post. The male form was very much glorified; it was a symbol of power, strength, and prosperity. Ancient Greeks set the standards for male ideals, and its influence still exists today.

 

2091904
Kellan Lutz in The Legend of Hercules (2014)

 

Though not quite as pronounced as modern female beauty ideals, men today also feel pressured to fit into the mold. Just like in Ancient Greece, society tells men that they must ooze masculinity and suppress their feminine side. Just a quick Google search of how to build muscle will bring up pages of “how to look like a Greek god”. There is an expectation, especially with the rise of social media, for men to be fit, with a low body fat percentage. Thousands of years ago, athletes would train in a gymnasium, which literally translates to “a place to train naked”. Although the latter is no longer true (that would be awkward), the gym is now a popular place to get fit for both men and women.

Farnese Herakles Heracles Hercules
Farnese Hercules – a Roman copy – from Museo Archiologico Nazionale, Naples

This Roman copy of a Lysippos sculpture from the 4th Century BCE depicts the hero Heracles. The demi-god of strength, Heracles, or better known by his Roman name Hercules, is an ideal representation of the male physique, even more so than any of the other statues we’ve looked at. He was even stronger than his father, Zeus, king of the gods. He is much bulkier than most of the other sculptures during this time and it is clear that this statue emphasizes the strength he possessed through his exaggerated muscles contours. The sculpture’s severe style shows his arm leaning on his club, while his other hand is behind his back holding the apples of the Hesperides. The retrieval of the apples was one of Hercules’ last labours, suggesting that he has finished his 12 tasks. Although he is tired, this statue captures a moment in time that depicts his true heroism. Hercules was not only an icon of male beauty, but through his strength and perseverance, he became a moral idol, setting a precedence of what it truly meant to be a man.

 

f2dfd32d50c18e7a9cc7aba2eacb4134--eugene-oneill-father
The father of bodybuilding – Eugen Sandow

 

If you look closely you can also see his accentuated v lines a.k.a., the Apollo belt. This was an ideal seen throughout most Classical art, as well as today. However, it is sometimes naturally unattainable, even with strict diet and exercise. With the introduction of modern bodybuilding in the late 1800’s, men were now able to strive for that perfect Greek god figure, complete with defined abs and bulging arms. Respect is given to people who put effort into their looks, and their bodies, whether it was 2000 years ago, or today.

.

 

 

Sources:

Haynes, N. (2015, March 27). What every man needs now: a six-pack from ancient Greece. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2015/mar/27/ancient-greece-physical-pressure-hercules-body-image

Stokstad, M. & Cothren, M., Art: A Brief History. Pearson: 2016.

Hercules image: https://www.comicbookmovie.com/sci-fi/it-sounds-like-kellan-lutz-is-up-for-a-role-in-mcgs-masters-of-the-a142941

Farnese Hercules: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnese_Hercules

Eugen Sandow: https://wolfandiron.com/eugene-sandow-part-1-perfect-male-form/

 

 

 

 

 

Athletes and Warriors

As previously mentioned, sculptures were a way for Ancient Greeks to commemorate figures that were culturally valuable. Along with gods, athletes and warriors were highly honoured, so it only makes sense that there were vast amounts of statues depicting these heroes. The Olympics originated in Greece as early as the 10th century BCE in order to appease the god Zeus. To win, was the ultimate display of notability. There are many legends surrounding the reason athletes performed nude, however, it is clear that many enjoyed admiring the muscular form of these men.

As I said before, there was no physical difference between gods and mortals, as they both possessed human qualities. However, there is a difference to note: the citizens felt they had a duty to adhere to these standards placed upon them. The statues were a representation of the ultimate ideal, an image to look up to, if you will.

AN00396999_001_l
Roman Copy of the Discobolus – from the British Museum

The sculpture Discobolus was an innovation in the art world. Though balance existed in previous sculptures, Myron took it to a whole new level. He was fixated on measuring and using mathematics to create perfect symmetry in his forms. In the sculpture, a young man prepares to throw a discus in the Olympics. Again using “severe style”, he is frozen in a moment of time, all his muscles contracted, showing the power and skill he possesses. Many experts argue the impossibility of his stance, however, the reoccurring theme seen in Ancient Greek art is the reflection of the ultimate human physique, whether attainable or not.

Another famous set of sculptures that depict the athletic form is the Riace Warriors. The names and context are unknown, so they are usually referred to as “Statue A” and “Statue B”. These statues were another attempt to portray a mix of real and ideal qualities. Yet again, we see bronze used as the material. Sculptors preferred bronze because it was lighter than marble and easier to work with. In addition, the bronze allowed the minor artistic details to, quite literally, shine through.While their bodies differ slightly in composition, both statues exhibit smooth skin, beards, and muscular physiques. This suggests they may have been made by different sculptors with a similar vision in mind.

Riace_Bronzes__news.artnet.com
The Riace Warriors – From the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in Italy

Sure they look chiseled, however, the sculptors created a balance between realism and idealism by adding natural aspects such as veins. The realism suggests the acceptance that natural equals beautiful. If it wasn’t considered beautiful, it wouldn’t have been included in the sculpture. Although the statues celebrate the natural male form, it would be incomplete without modified qualities. The muscle that extends from the pelvic region towards the back is known today as the “v line”. It is still highly coveted by gym goers, and most will tell you it is very difficult to achieve. In many sculptures such as this one, the v line is emphasized to an unnatural degree. The crevice in the center of the chest is also a body part heavily enhanced by Classical Greek artists. The artists were conforming to the beauty standards set by society, but also creating new ones, which I will discuss in the next post.

Stokstad, M. & Cothren, M., Art: A Brief History. Pearson: 2016.

Furman University Scholar Exchange. (2015). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from http://scholarexchange.furman.edu/art231/40/

Riace Warriors. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/greek-art/early-classical/a/riace-warriors

Scallion. (November 23, 2010). The Greek “Ideal”. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://hubpages.com/education/The-Greek-Ideal

Discobolus image: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_ object_details.aspx?objectId=8760&partId=1

Riace Warriors image: http://scholarexchange.furman.edu/art231/40/

 

Gods: Zeus and Aphrodite

Gods were a major part of Ancient Greek life, not only in a religious sense, but they were also a conventional aspect of everyday lives. It is interesting to note, however, that unlike gods such as Gautama Buddha from Buddhism, Ancient Greek gods were not moral beings. They didn’t exist to be morally infallible, but to teach lessons on morality to citizens through their behaviour. Statues of gods were very popular during the Classical Period, and they were usually commissioned as gifts, decoration, religious worship, or even to appease the gods themselves.

One of the most prominent sculptures of a god during the classical period was “Artemis Bronze”. This statue, made of bronze, was found off the coast of Cape Artemisian, Greece. It is important to point out that few bronze sculptures from ancient Greece exist, as most were destroyed for material. Although its creator is unknown, it is thought to be from around 460 BCE, and most likely represents Zeus. Although, according to the article Nature, Culture, and the Body in Classical Greek Religious Art, Jeremy Tanner suggests that, “Archaic gods are not immediately distinguishable from each other, or humans, except by context or attributes,” so it has been controversially indicated by experts that it could possibly be the god Poseidon. It is made harder to identify due to the fact that the weapon from its hand is missing, although it is probably a thunderbolt: Zeus’ weapon of choice.

14. Poseidon of Artemision, 460 BC, Severe style.preview
Artemision Bronze – from the National Archeological Museum of Athens, Greece

The first thing that is noticeable about this sculpture is that it depicts the nude male form. Nudity is a sign of a god or athlete, both of which were highly praised in Greek society. For a male it symbolized heroism. His body is very realistic all the way down to the stance. This is something that is called “severe style”, which highlights a specific moment in time. Severe style introduced more movement to art, as opposed to the stiff sculptures of the archaic period. Just as the figure is becoming prepared to throw the object: his eyes are focused and his arms are outstretched, we can see how powerful the image is that the sculptor is portraying. During this time, artists were studying the male anatomy in order to make the statues as lifelike as possible, which can be seen from the detail in his muscles. Although the anatomy looks very lifelike, it also has unachievable aspects. The statue stands almost 7feet tall, with an arm span of around 6 feet, which only adds to the compelling depiction of the dominant figure. This suggests the artist’s desire to create a balance between the real and ideal.

 

1200px-Cnidus_Aphrodite_Altemps_Inv8619 (1)
Roman copy of Aphrodite of Knidos, The Cnidian Aphrodite

 

 

When discussing Geek beauty ideals, it’s only fitting to consider the goddess Aphrodite. She was the ideal manifestation of the female image: representing beauty, love, pleasure, and fertility. The sculpture Aphrodite of Knidos was perhaps the most ground-breaking piece of Greek art during the classical period. Between 300 and 350 BCE, it’s believed that the sculptor, Praxiteles, was commissioned by the city of Kos to construct a statue of Aphrodite, and he created two: one clothed and one nude. Kos was hesitant towards the nude depiction and purchased the other. The city of Knidos purchased the nude statue, and although they didn’t know it at the time, it was a decision that would change the foundation of art for decades to come.

 

See, it was very common for statues to express the nude male form, but not female. Today the statue is known as most likely the first nude realistic sculpture of a female. It’s hard to believe that a society so focused on beauty would disregard the female figure, especially since today it is one of the most celebrated. However, the ancient Greeks were very modest about female genitals, while male genitals were proudly displayed as a symbol of prosperity. The statue depicted Aphrodite as she prepared to take a ritual bath. Stuck in a moment of time, she covered her pelvic area with one hand, and held her garment in the other, leaving her breasts exposed. Through her expression, it is clear that her nakedness did not bring her embarrassment, which highlighted her goddess status. Due to society’s standards, a regular female citizen would have felt ashamed to be naked. This context caused the Aphrodite of Knidos to become a symbol of sensuality and eroticism; she is, after all, the goddess of beauty. Some stories even exist of men lusting after the sculpture itself, which accentuates the realism that Praxetiles was able to achieve. Though the original statue was lost in destruction, many inspired pieces exist all over the world.

As far as the male representation in Ancient Greek art, there was no distinction between gods and mortals, except for their accessories, many of which have been lost. They both depict the ideal human form, a visual bearer of society’s beauty standards. A nude male form, muscular and in all its glory, was a figure to be honoured. A female form, on the other hand, was a scandalous, erotic image to be desired. In today’s culture, it seems like things haven’t changed too much.

 

Sources:

Berz, M., Aphrodite of Knidos. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2017, from https://minerva.union.edu/wareht/gkcultur/guide/19/mel.html

Dr. Harris, B., and Dr. Zucker, S., Artemision Zeus or Poseidon. Smarthistory, December 15, 2015. Accessed November 19, 2017,https://smarthistory.org/artemision-zeus-or-poseidon/

World Art. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2017, from https://www.learner.org/courses/globalart/work/235/index.html

Stokstad, M. & Cothren, M., Art: A Brief History. Pearson: 2016.

Aphrodite of Knidos image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphrodite_of_Knidos

Artemision Bronze image: http://archives.evergreen.edu/webpages/curricular/2006-2007/greeceanditaly/zeus-or-poseidon-c-460-bc-bronze-just-over-life-size/index.html

 

 

What is Beauty?

Something that comes to mind when admiring the beauty of Classic Greek art, at least for myself, is the perfect state of their appearance. Rarely today do you see humans with similar bodies; in fact, experts have concluded that many of the statues depicted forms that are naturally unattainable. See, Ancient Greeks had this idea of perfection in their heads. To be perfect was considered the ultimate achievement, so much that philosophers spent a great deal of time pondering the idea behind beauty.

This blog will focus mostly on the beauty ideals portrayed in Ancient Greek art, but first, I will focus on beauty from a philosophical point of view, mainly the views of Socrates and many of his companions. Socrates was a Greek philosopher born in the classical period around 469 BCE who was highly interested in morals and ethics. There are many statues that exist of Socrates, and according to both Ancient Greek and today’s standards, he was not conventionally beautiful. In fact, many sources explain the emphasis he put on the importance of intelligence over physical appearance, yet he spoke of beauty fairly often. This is possibly due to the fact he was never considered beautiful, yet he was well aware of the power it held in society. The idea of beauty interested him so much that he was credited as the first person to ask: What is beauty?

 

Portrait Herm of
4th Century bust of Socrates – The Capitoline Museums, Rome

That’s a good question. Socrates builds on that question in the text “Symposium” which was recorded by Plato. The thing about Socrates, however, is that he liked asking questions, but not answering them. He liked to make people think. In this work, he suggests that there was a clear correlation between beauty and morals. To be beautiful on the outside, meant you were beautiful, or moral, on the inside. Plato coined this term kalokagathia. Many people believe that because of this, Classic Greek sculptors were not only artists but also philosophers. They aimed to create the ideal body, which was a physical representation of the ideology surrounding human perspective.

Where did the idea of beauty come from? When looking back in history for the beginning beauty ideals, it seems that the Classical period in Greece was the first period in time to start portraying the human form as more realistic. However, with the rise in popularity of sculptors such as Polykleitos, a striking balance between realism and idealism through art was discovered. Through the future blog posts, I aim to outline the perspectives of beauty as seen in the Classical Greek era, and it’s relation to today.

Sources

Stokstad, M. & Cothren, M., Art: A Brief History. Pearson: 2016.

Fistioc, M., The Beautiful Shape of the Good: Platonic and Pythagorean Themes in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgements. Routledge: 2002. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Kraut, R., Socrates. August 16, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Socrates. Accessed November 10, 2017.

Scallion. The Greek “Ideal”. Hubpages, November 23, 2010. https://hubpages.com/education/The-Greek-Ideal. Accessed November 10, 2017.