Masculinity in Ancient Greece

The spectacle of the ancient Greek male body is as enduring and relevant now as it was in 500 BC. The ideal image of man, largely sourced from Homeric legend, still forms the basis of our ideas of masculinity — not only the physical form of a stereotypical Homeric hero, but the mental traits — strength, physical skill, courage: qualities all used today in adverts selling cars and colognes. Modern cliché comes from ancient truth; courage was so sacred to the Spartans soldiers that any man who acted cowardly on the field of battle would at best lose citizen status, and at worse suffer such humiliation and shaming that suicide was often preferable. In literature, the ideals of masculinity are divided; on the one hand, the ‘Achilles’ ethos perpetuates a masculinity of prowess on the battlefield, courage, brutality, physical superiority — familiar Homeric examples including Heracles, Ajax, and of course Achilles. On the other, the ‘Odysseus’ ethos; a hero who shows his masculinity through cunning, wisdom and good counsel — Aeneas, the family man of the Aeneid, a textbook Romanic example. Odysseus and Achilles both fit the artistic stereotype that rose through Athen’s’ golden age, a physical ideal of man defined by works such as the Diskobolos, the Diadumenos, and the Doryphoros. This masculine imagery, having perhaps departed popular culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is returning to popularity in our era.

However, by our modern standards, high Hellenistic representations of men could be termed ‘effeminate’.

Top Row: Unknown artist, Croatian Apoxyomenos, 1st Century BC, bronze, 192 cm, Mali Lošinj Museum of Apoxyomenos (Photo: Museum of Apoxyomenos)Praxiteles, Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, 4th Century BC, marble, 212 cm, Archaeological Museum of Olympia (Photo: Wikipedia)Praxiteles, the Farnese Hermes, 1st Century BC, marble, 201 cm, British Museum (Photo: British Museum)Unknown artist, Apoxyomenos, 1st Century AD, bronze, 193 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Photo: Ephesos Museum)Bottom Row: Unknown artist, Hermes of the Museo Pio-Clementino, 4th Century BC, marble, Museo Pio-Clementino (Photo: Museo Pio-Clementino)Praxiteles, the Farnese Hermes, 1st Century BC, marble, 201 cm, British Museum (Photo: British Museum)Unknown artist, Bronze Athlete, 340 – 330 BC, Bronze, National Archaeological Museum, Athens (Photo. Ancient.eu)Unknown artist, Bronze head of Apollo, 2nd Century BC, Bronze, Musée d'Art Classique de Mougins, (Pho