tell us, the very best physic, but it functioned 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 endured in Greek athletics because it was supported by heroic
tradition and faith. So the use of nudity for aggression and apotropaic
purposes that is characteristic of the early phases of human society and which
reflects 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 sharp eye for physical attractiveness regarded flabbiness, a pale skin, desire of state, or
imperfect growth as disgraceful, and the ill-developed youth was the laughing-stock of his companies.”
Kenneth Clark (The Bare, p. 19) remarked: “So our surmise that the discovery of the nude as a type of artwork is
connected with idealism and faith in measurable symmetries appears to be true, but it is only half the truth. What
other peculiarities of the Greek mind are required? One obvious answer is their belief that the body was something
to take pride in. and should be kept in perfect trim.” Yet, Clark continued, “But in fact Greek trust in the body
can be understood simply in relation to their philosophy. It expresses above all their sense of human wholeness.
Nothing which related to the whole man could be isolated or evaded; and this serious recognition 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 Athletics,” 4361 claims “The public nakedness which doesn’t, in the 1970’s shock us as it
shocked the Romans-though it does, perhaps, look somewhat uncivilized for the Greeks-empowered the sportsmen
to reveal the complete control they used over their bodies. Since they were the only individuals to compete naked,
they could well consider they were the only people capable of such self-control: here, maybe, was a clear
superiority over the barbarians, who had to hide themselves both to avert tempting others and to conceal their own
Deficiency of control.” 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 rite, its slow transformationfrom initiation
Rituals to the “civic”nudity of the Classical period, and its
significance in various spiritual, magic, and societal circumstances. The characterof this association can be seen more

Certainly by comparing it with earlier Near Eastern approaches to nakedness, and to the after contemporary”barbarian”approaches of the Hebrews, Etruscans,and Gauls,
as well as to the contemporaryviews of female nudity,
before its acceptancein the Hellenistic period.*

as a costume.’ This is a surprising phenomenon. That
We’ve not been more surprised by it’s due to the fact
that we follow in their tradition and take the Greeks
as models, forgetting how frequently their associations and
Dispositions made them the exception, and not the rule,
among early peoples. The Greeks of the Classical
world did not forget. While not, as we shall see, completely
understanding the importance of the custom, they
were proud of its singularity.
A study of nudity in Greece should be undertaken
from of view. I limit myself, in the
present article, to a concern of the evidence of art
and literature in an effort 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 original character of an-

Among the innovations of the ancient Greeks that
changed our way of seeing the world, among nudism public 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 advice 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 standard AJA abbreviations,the following are used in this article:

Five fundamental reasons accounting for mankind’s use of
clothing will be located to be applicable at various
stages of our discussion of nudity: 1) as protection
against the elements, particularly the cold; 2) for social
reasons, to recognize members of a tribe or class; 3)