Greek statues

Greek statues

Hermaphrodite bum 0635

 

The Greeks produced a large number of sexy statues. They were superb sculptors and they loved depicting human flesh, and they liked to make that flesh sexy.

Perhaps surprisingly the earliest Greek art consists of naked men rather than women. It was only in the fourth century that Praxiteles carved the first famous nude  Aphrodite which has been the model for painting naked women ever since.

No other culture – except perhaps for the Egyptians – has celebrated male nudity quite so enthusiastically as the Greeks. Greek art delights in displaying the body beautiful – preferably naked – with exuberance that one rarely sees in our buttoned-up Western art. It is only later that female sex gets a look in. Here we see some Greek nudes which were displayed at the British Museum exhibition on ‘Defining Beauty’ in 2015.

Kouros D 289

Strangford Apollo

Greek art begins around 650 BC in the Archaic period from which there are numerous naked statues of young men, many dedicated to Apollo – indeed many are often thought to be statues of the god Apollo. They are known as kouroi, from the Greek kouros, meaning a young man. They often tend to be formulaic, with the left foot forward, hands firmly by side, and rather small penises projecting defiantly in front. They are often thought to show Egyptian influence – a Greek trading settlement had been established that at Naukratis in Egypt.

However around 500, everything changed and Greek art becomes less stiff and formal and adopts a more fluid style that represents a huge step forward in the history of art: there had been nothing quite like it before and its influence rapidly spread over much of the Western and indeed Indian world.

Young athlete D 291Take for instance this example of a young athlete, with one leg stiff and the other bent and slightly twisting round. He looks down modestly though he is fully naked though sadly his actual prick has been knocked off: a pity it has not been restored.

But the real revolution came with the building of the Parthenon at Athens. The great Temple on top of the Acropolis had been destroyed when the Persians captured the city in 490, but 50 years later it was decided to build a magnificent new Temple with the sculptures being masterminded by Pheidias, one of the greatest sculptors of all time. Some of the finest surviving sculptures come from the great frieze that ran round the top of the walls of the Temple, showing the great procession of citizens to celebrate the festival of Athena. But it is surprising to see how many of those in the procession are shown nude.

Bareback rider from the Parthenos

Bareback rider from the Parthenon

Take for instance the panel of two riders, the first of them riding bareback and naked, twisting round and leaning backwards to show off his magnificent body; one hopes that his balls were not too pounded by riding naked like this.

Frieze from Parthenon

Frieze from Parthenon

Or consider this panel of two riders. To the right, is a clothed rider with an attendant adjusting his belt. To the left however the rider is splendidly naked, but is having a little difficulty in controlling his horse – which enables him to show off his musculature.

Discus thrower, as envisaged by the great sculptor Myron

Discus thrower, as envisaged by the great sculptor Myron

One of the great Greek sculptors of the 5th century was Myron, and one of the finest statues in the British Museum is his discus thrower, with the athlete twisting back about to throw the discus – again nude, though this on this occasion the nudity is realistic, for the Greeks always had performed their games in the nude: indeed the word gymnasium comes from the Greek word gumnos, meaning naked

The god Bacchus, with companion bedecked with grapes

The god Bacchus, with companion bedecked with grapes

Bacchus penis P0622Or see this photo of Bacchus, the god of wine, accompanied by an attendant covered with bunches of grapes ,while Bacchus proudly displays his nudity – for once the prick has not been knocked off.

Capitoline Venus 0633However around 350 Greek art changed for ever. Praxiteles, who vies with Pheidias for the title of the greatest Greek sculptor, carved the first Greek nude female. The story goes that the Temple on the island of Kos ordered a statue of the goddess Aphrodite. Praxiteles thereupon carved two statues, one clothed and one nude. When they were delivered to the island, the islanders were shocked by the nude statue and instead chose the clothed statue.

What happened to the clothed statue, we do not know: nothing more was heard of it. The naked statue however was taken to the nearby island of Cnidus and here the citizens were less prudish and bought the statue and set it up in the Temple where it became one of the most famous of all pieces of Greek statuary, and a major source of tourist income for Cnidus.

Numerous copies were made – the best known being that in the Capitoline Museum at Rome; but the British Museum also has one of the finest known as the Campo Iemini Aphrodite. The type became known as the Venus pudica, as she is painted entering a bath with one hand covering up her cunt and the other delicately half covering her breasts – though images on the coins of Cnidus show her being less coy, with the right arm, instead of covering her breast, is reaching out to the supporting pillar as she took off her clothes.

Backside P602Many other naked Aphrodites followed. One of the finest is the Crouching Aphrodite, where the goddess is surprised coming out of her bath and her right arm is reaching out to conceal her breasts, thus encouraging the voyeur to walk round her to revel in her beauties. The British Museum has a particularly fine example known as the Lely Venus as it was owned by the painter Peter Lely (1608 to 1680), though after his death it was purchased by the Crown and is now owned by her Majesty the Queen who has kindly lent it on permanent loan to the British Museum.Crouching venus P 603 This Crouching Venus was the opening feature of the British Museum exhibition, facing inwards and thus presenting her magnificent backside as the first thing that the visitor sees. The Greeks were rather more enthusiastic over bums is than is the modern era, and the image of that magnificent backside still has the power to shock the modern visitor.

 

Copennhagen P0624A particularly interesting statue in the exhibition was one on loan from Copenhagen: the body is a fairly standard nude, but somehow the head does not fit. In fact the head must be a portrait of a real woman: the elaborate hair to can be dated pretty exactly to the early years of the second century A.D., and it is clear that here is some aristocratic woman who commissioned a nude statue of herself, and the sculptor sculpted a standard Aphrodite body and then put on this real head and coiffure: but can we imagine any modern woman commissioning a statue of herself in the nude?

(Though recently a Cambridge don had a picture of herself painted nude – and exhibited it at an exhibition. I think her intention was to show that it is possible for a woman to pose naked without being sexy: in this I don’t think she has been altogether successful: I think that despite her frown, she is rather sexy).

Rape P0632Finally there is this interesting little statue of rape – a young boy is trying to rape a slightly older and slightly bigger girl, but not really succeeding as she is pulling his hair – the best way to say ‘No’. For those who like mythological interpretation, the youth may be a satyr as he appears to have big ears hidden among his curls, and big ears are one of the characteristics of a satyr and in any case satyrs are always raping nymphs. But the Greeks were rather more sympathetic to this sort of playfulness than is modern fashion – at least among satyrs and nymphs.

Hermaphrodite bum 0635But perhaps the most shocking piece in the exhibition was a hermaphrodite lent by the Louvre Museum in Paris. Seen from the front she is a very sexy woman, but when you go round the back, you see that she has penis and balls: she is a combination of the male God Hermes is and the female goddess Aphrodite.

Hermaphrodite balls 0634The Greeks always liked the idea of blending the sexes: they did not have our belief that one should be either male or female, straight or gay, but rather they preferred to mix such concepts up, and rejoiced in the idea that the noble young man would bugger young boys in the morning and then fuck their wives or their concubines in the afternoon – one always kept a number of comely slaves for fucking when one felt sexy. They believed one should bring together the best features of men and women, the softness of the female form combined with the more dynamic interest of the male balls and penis: the result is the hermaphrodite.

Dokimasia 0641Finally, to the right, how to enjoy your fuck. A wealthy young man is reclining back on a cushion, penis proudly erect while a young woman, presumably a slave, lowers herself onto his penis  so that it can be inserted up her cunt for a good fuck. Lucky man, this is the easy way to do it!

This fine red-figure drawing is on  the base of a drinking cup, so when you had drunk your wine, you would be  granted an intimation of the pleasures to come – if you were lucky!

 

 

On to the Gay Greeks, the delights of homosexuality 

28th March 2015