tell us, the very best physic, but it served as a valuable motivator to the youth of Greece to keep themselves in gwd


Journal of Sport History, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Winter, 1985)

Nudity lived in Greek athletics because it was supported by heroic
tradition and religion. So the usage of nudity for aggression and apotropaic
purposes which is characteristic of the early phases of human society and which
Represents the animal part of human nature endured with an unusual persistency
and beyond recognition in the historical period and found refuge under the
mantle of one of the most illustrious aspects of Greek culture: the athletics.

condition. The Greek with his keen eye for physical beauty regarded flabbiness, a light skin, need of condition, or
imperfect growth as disgraceful, and the sick-developed youth was the laughing-stock of his companies.”
Kenneth Clark (The Nude, p. 19) remarked: “So our surmise that the discovery of the nude as a type of artwork is
connected with idealism and faith in quantifiable symmetries seems to be true, but it’s just half the truth. What
other peculiarities of the Greek head are called for? One obvious solution is their belief the body was something
to take pride in. and should be kept in perfect trim.” Yet, Clark continued, “But in fact Greek confidence in the body
can be understood simply in relation to their doctrine. It expresses above all their awareness of human wholeness.
Nothing which related to the whole man could be isolated or evaded; and this serious knowledge of how much was
implied in physical beauty saved them from the two evils of sensuality and aestheticism (p. 21). James Arieti
[“Nudity in Greek Sports,” 4361 claims “The public nakedness which doesn’t, in the 1970’s shock us as it
shocked the Romans-though it does, maybe, look somewhat uncivilized for the Greeks-empowered the athletes
to show the entire control they exerted over their bodies. Since they were the only people to compete naked,
they could well believe they were the only people capable of such self- family naturism nudism : here, maybe, was a clear
superiority over the barbarians, who had to hide themselves both to avert tempting others and to conceal their own
lack of management.” For more references regarding the practice of nudity in Greek athletics, see ibid., pp. 434 n. 10,

Nudity as a Costumein ClassicalArt
The Greeks saw their custom of athletic man nudity
as something that set them apart from the barbarians,as
well as from their own past. A surveyof male nudity as a
costume in Greece tries to follow its source in eighthcentury ritual, its slow transformationfrom initiation
rites to the “civic”nudity of the Classical period, and its
significance in various spiritual, magic, and societal contexts. The characterof this institution can be viewed more
Definitely by comparing it with before Near Eastern approaches to nakedness, and to the later contemporary”barbarian”attitudes of the Hebrews, Etruscans,and Gauls,
as well concerning the contemporaryviews of female nudity,
before its acceptancein the Hellenistic interval.*

as a costume.’ This is a surprising occurrence. That
we have not been more surprised by it’s due to the fact
that we follow in their own convention and take the Greeks
as models, forgetting how frequently their associations and
attitudes made them the exception, and not the rule,
among early peoples. of the Classical
world did not forget. While not, as we shall see, totally
understanding the importance of the custom, they
were proud of its singularity.
A study of nudity in Greece should be undertaken
from the historical perspective. I restrict myself, in the
present article, to a concern of the signs of artwork
and literature in an attempt to comprehend what lay
behind the words and figures concerning and representing nudity that have come down to us, and to describe something about the first character of an-

One of the initiations of the early Greeks that
changed our way of seeing the world, one of the most
Dominant is a particular kind of public nudity-nudity
* An earlier versionof the
Current articlewas presentedat

the Institute for AdvancedStudy in Princetonin 1980. I am
Glad for the support and guidance of Homer and Dorothy
Thompson, Christian Habicht, S.D. Goitein, W.S. Heckscher, Seth Benardete, Leo Raditsa, Myles McDonnell,
Nancy de Grummond, Judith Swaddling, Ingrid Strom,
Brunilde S. Ridgway, Evelyn B. Harrison, R. Ross Holloway, Mark Davies, Michael Vickers, Brian Shefton,
Hans JiorgBloesch, and the anonymousAJA reviewers.
In addition to the normal AJA abbreviations,the following are used in this post:

Five fundamental reasons accounting for mankind’s use of
Garments will be found to be relevant at various
Phases of our discussion of nudity: 1) as protection
against the components, particularly the cold; 2) for social
reasons, to differentiate members of a tribe or class; 3)