Things were good for men who were buff and glossy. And for women, fuller-figured redhe were in favour - but they had to contend with an ominous undercurrent, historian Bettany Hughes explains. A full-lipped, cheek-chiselled man in Ancient Greece knew two things - that his beauty was a blessing a gift of the gods no less and that his perfect exterior hid an inner perfection.
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For the Greeks a beautiful body was considered direct evidence of a beautiful mind. They even had a word for it - kaloskagathos - which meant being gorgeous to look at, and hence being a good person. Not very politically correct, I know, but the horrible truth is that pretty Greek boys would have swaggered around convinced they atens triply blessed - beautiful, brainy and god-beloved. So what made them fit?
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For years, classical Greek sculpture was believed to be a perfectionist fantasy - an impossible ideal, but we now think a of loking exquisite statues from the 5th to the 3rd Centuries BC were in fact cast from life - a real person was covered with plaster, and the mould created loo,ing then used to make the sculpture. An average Athenian or Spartan citizen would have been seriously ripped - thin-waisted, small-penised, oiled from his "glistening lovelocks" down to his ideally slim toes.
A rather different story though when it comes to the female of the species. She was evil because she was beautiful, and beautiful because she was evil. Being a good-looking man was fundamentally good news. Being a handsome woman, by definition, spelt trouble. And if that wasn't bad enough, beauty was frequently a competitive sport. Beauty contests - kallisteia - were a regular fixture in the training grounds of the Olympics at Elis and on the islands of Tenedos and Lesbos, where women were judged as they walked to and fro.
Triumphant men had ribbons tied around winning features - a particularly pulchritudinous calf-muscle or bicep.
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My favourite has to be the contest in honour of Aphrodite Kallipugos - Aphrodite of the beautiful buttocks. The story goes that when deliberating on where to found a temple to the goddess in Sicily it was decided an exemplar of human beauty should make the choice. Two amply-portioned farmer's daughters battled it out.
The best endowed was given the honour of choosing the site for Aphrodite's shrine.
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Fat-bottomed girls clearly had a hotline to the goddess of love. So wide hips and white arms, sometimes blanched by the application of white-lead make-up, were all good for the Greeks. Redhe could also take comfort. Though they were spurned as witches across looing later medieval world - and still are in some countries even today - they had prehistoric power, as shown in one of the most sublime pieces of art from all of fof.
The Bronze Age wall-paintings on the Greek island of Thera modern-day Santorinipreserved when the island-volcano erupted cBC, show a gaggle of beauties.
Just one young woman is allowed to approach the goddess - after restoration it became clear this exquisite creature is unique thanks to a mane of deep red hair. Xanthos - "golden" or tawny - is a standard epithet used to describe heroes in epic literature.
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Orthodox thought tells us this is just a literary trope, but anyone who has stood with a tawny or redhead friend, backlit by a Mediterranean sun, will know something magical does happen. Here in front of you is spun gold. For a magpie culture that collected tp trinkets and golden jewellery so fine a single necklace could be made of 16, individually worked pieces, the power of the blonde was believed to be real. Interestingly the femme-fatale-ness of one blonde-bombshell - Helen of Troy - was considered to stem not from the ad she looked, but how she made men feel and ror she made men do.
When we first meet her in book three of Homer's Iliad, the old men sing, their voices rising and falling, like cicadas: "Oh what beauty!
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Her breasts would have been bare or covered in a diaphanous gauze. The literary Helen drew men both to her bed and to their deaths. Her beauty was a weapon of mass destruction. In the Greek llooking everything had an intrinsic meaning; nothing was pointless.
Beauty had a purpose; it was an active, independent reality, not a nebulous quality that only came into being once it was discerned. Beauty was a psycho-physical parcel that had as much to do with character and divine favour as chest size. The philosopher Socrates famously confounded all ideas of how a beautiful Greek should look, with his swaggering gait, swivelling eyes, bulbous nose, hairy back and pot belly. Passages in the Socratic dialogues are dedicated to a radical exploration of how this satyr-like shell might in fact contain a luminous character.
But Socrates and his pupil Plato were fighting an uphill battle. The sheer of mirrors found in Greek graves show that beauty really counted for something.
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Looks mattered. The Ancient Greeks were, I'm afraid, faceist. Related Topics.