Saturday, March 6, 2010

"It's Greek to me"

Nudity became prominent in the art of ancient Greece. Athletic competitions celebrated the human form, particularly the male, more than any time in history. The perfect male anatomy portrayed strength, prowess, dominance & power. Athletes even competed in the nude, and the Greeks thought they reflected the best of humanity. This was truly a time when mankind believed "humans were the measure of all things". It was natural for the Greeks to associate the idealized male nude with triumph, glory, and even moral excellence. Furthermore, the standard smile may have represented an idealized happiness and quality of life. Images of naked athletes stood, immortalized, as offerings in sanctuaries, while athletic-looking nudes even portrayed their gods and heroes of Greek religion. The sculptures reflected the perfect balance between flesh and spiritual perfection.

These idols were reminders to citizens that they should strive to be more God-like. However, most mortals could not reach this impossible spiritual perfection. The celebration of the body and physical harmony among the Greeks contrasts remarkably with attitudes in other parts of the ancient world, where nudity was associated with disgrace, lack of wealth and defeat. The best-known example of this view is the biblical story of Adam and Eve, where the first man and woman discover that they are naked and consequently suffer shame & punishment.

Greek art has had a profound effect throughout time. Greek sculptures are very important as the vast majority of them tell a story about Gods, heroes, Events, mythical creatures and Greek culture. The preoccupation with youthful male beauty and nudity even manifested itself in stories that included a norm or acceptance of homosexuality. Consider the stories of Achilles & Patroclus, Zeus & Ganymede, Hercules & Hylas, Poseidon & Pelaps and Apollo & Hyacinth & Cyparissus. These relationships have been speculated due to narratives on pottery, mosaics, sculpture and other ancient artworks and writings. But many experts question whether all of the male-male intimacy was more a societal norm than a sexuality reality. Many of the statues that have survived to tell their tales are actually of Roman origin. If these copies had not been made, many of the Greek legends would have been lost forever.

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