Athletic beauty

P213In ancient Greece beauty was esteemed highly. The ideal man was young, tall, athletic and had a bronzed skin. Naked he was at his most beautiful. It is therefore not a surprise that athletes were often praised as beautiful people. The pentathletes, the balanced all-rounders, were considered the most beautiful among them. Idealized statues of perfect athletes therefore often show pentathletes, like the discus thrower of Myron or the javelin bearer of Polykleitos. Boxers, wrestlers and pancratiasts were not often praised for their beauty. They were too heavy and often scarred by their wounds. The boxer Melankomas, however, is praised because he preserved his beauty by his excellent defense.

While the athletes were training naked in the gymnasion, their beauty could be evaluated by those present. This certainly stimulated pederasty.

P160The beauty of athletes is also praised in the so-called 'kalos'-inscriptions. 'Kalos' is the Greek word for 'beautiful'. In combination with the name of an athlete the word appears on vase paintings and in graffiti on the walls of gymnasia or stadia.

The Greek ideal was not merely esthetical. Beauty was often considered an outer manifestation of inner qualities, like courage and self-control. The ideal combination of physical beauty with moral excellence is called 'kalokagathia'. This is a contraction of the Greek words for 'beautiful' and 'goodness'.

© KU Leuven, 2012