Please welcome guest blogger Kayla Jameth. Kayla indulged my curiosity on a few matters, and wrote up a longer discussion for everyone.
This is what I asked about.
Why yes, those are naked men running around an amphora of great antiquity. It’s by a famous artist of the time, Kleophrades, and it’s in the Louvre. My interest was purely academic, she says virtuously. (And falsely, so quit snickering. Tell me you don’t want to see more and haven’t already blown the pic up 4x. Control + embiggens it.)
Turns out this wasn’t an unusual situation, and if more sporting events used this dress code, I’d attend events every weekend. Here’s Kayla to explain a bit more.
As you may be aware, I have a series set in ancient Greece. I’m often asked about the Spartan’s warrior band made up of lovers. Since the answer to that is: You’re thinking of the Sacred Band of THEBES. Not much drool worthy there.
So Pam asked me to speak about the Greeks’ propensity for naked athletes. Something about the visual that accompanies the footraces. I think Madeline Kahn’s little song in The History of the World Part I sums up how I feel about that. Quick time harch!
The Greeks competed in Games to honor their gods and the dead. Somewhere along the way, the Games became naked exhibitions of strength and endurance. The Greek word gymnos means naked. See where our word gymnasium comes from? More people would hang out at one if that was still the case.
But why naked, you ask?
Well, the story goes that a girl, disguising herself as a youth, competed and won one of the foot races. To prevent that from happening again, all competitions were in the nude. However, it was considered rude to compete without a foreskin. (Don’t ask me. Everyone had to speak Greek to compete. Even Alexander the Great’s father had to prove he was descended from Greeks before he could take part. So it wasn’t like they were being anti-Semitic. They were antiforeigner in general.)
That’s not to say that ancient athletes were any less vain than their modern counterparts. They found a way to embellish their penises while still technically being naked. Some wore a kynodesme, a thin leather strip tied over the end of the foreskin, trapping the glans safely inside. Can’t risk showing that bad boy off. The kynodesme was then tied around the waist, exposing the scrotum, or to the base of the penis, forcing it to curl upwards. (Pic by Triptolemos, c. 480 BC).
Isn’t that pretty? Doesn’t that make you want to unwrap him?
Because the men competed nude, married women were forbidden to watch under pain of death. What a bunch of spoil sports! It wasn’t much fun to be a woman in most of Classical Greece.
But Sparta invariably went her own way. In Sparta, the girls as well as boys were encouraged not just to exercise, but to compete nude as well. And you can bet there was plenty of looking going on.
The Games included several footraces, wresting, boxing, pankration, chariot race, and the pentathlon which consisted of wrestling, a footrace, long jump, javelin throw and discus throw. The long jump, javelin throw and discus throw were not separate events.
The winners didn’t take home a purse. They won a wreath, or crown, of olives, laurel, pine or wild celery. But once they returned to their city-state, they were often showered with gifts and treated with honor.
Am I just writing the post as excuse to post naughty Greek art? Why do you ask? I’ll have you know that this is serious art—not porn!—and the first reasonably accurate depictions of the human body. The Greeks really knew their stuff and weren’t afraid to keep studying until they got it right. You’ve got to respect that kind of dedication. I know I do.
For more adventures in Ancient Greece, join Kayla with her new series, starting with A Spartan Love, now out from Dreamspinner.