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Ancient Greek Erotic Art

Greek Erotic Art

Greek Erotic Art

I was watching a documentary on the nude not long ago. It was a four part series starting with classical nudes (the Greeks and Romans) and moving chronologically to "Modern" art.

To the right is an example of the kind of nudes they were talking about from ancient Greece.

"They created these statements of their racial and cultural superiority. Tucidides talks of nudity as a mark of progress that distinguishes the modern from the old fashioned; the Greek, and the non-Greek. This is crucially important. For us, nudity is often only accepted in art but discouraged in society at large. In Greece, male nudity was acceptable at the gym, at athletic meetings and at the baths and so on and therefore its portrayal is a reflection of the society rather than eroticism."

So what the presenter is saying is that the nude is often seen in classical Greek art because it was a part of society and as acceptable as say, wearing a hat in public today.

Although that may be true, he completely avoided the fact that a very large part of the art produced in ancient Greece was undoubtedly erotic!

Now this is what I would call a classic Greek nude!

Greek Erotic Art

You may be surprised to hear that this form of the nude was just as common as the "athletic" nudes mentioned earlier. Although, more often than not homosexual scenes were portrayed, rather than the heterosexual one above.

Homosexuality in ancient Greece didn't have the same stigma that it does today. At least, not as long as you were the "giver" and not the "receiver." It was about class. The "giver" (known as the "erastes") was considered to be in the dominant role while the "receiver" (known as the "eromenos") had the submissive role. These roles extended past simple intercourse and into the fabric of everyday life. Older men, who were the dominant ones in Greek society, would often take on young male partners as their eromenos thus confirming their dominant status. Once the young lover had grown up, he would then take on an eromenos for himself. I wouldn't say this was standard practice in ancient Greece, though it was common and known as Pederasty

Together, the two would form a mentor-pupil relationship. This could have practical benefits, as the erastes could educate the eromenos in politics and civic life, and use his connections to ensure the eromenos would find success when he got older.

There is a well known (and very amusing!) piece of erotic art from ancient Greece known as the Eurymedon Vase that shows the "dominant" and "submissive" roles. On one side is depicted a mighty Greek warrior standing proud and clutching his erect penis. On the other side of the vase is an effeminate Persian archer, looking rather camp and bent over presenting his posterior. I should probably mention that the Greeks and Persians were at war during this time (around 400BC). Anyway, here are the two sides of the vase.

Eurymedon Vase
 

Between the two characters is the inscription:

"I am Eurymedon.
I am bent over."

The meaning of the inscription is unclear since the Eurymedon is the river where the Athenians defeated the Persians in battle around 460BC. It is possible the Greek is referring to himself as Eurymedon and the Persian is declaring that he is bent over but that isn't clear. What is clear though is that the Greek warrior is obviously portrayed as being dominant over the Persian who is shown in a submissive role.

Venus of Hohle Fels
Venus of Hohle Fels
Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf
Ancient Roman Erotic Art
Ancient Roman Erotic Art
Ancient Greek Erotic Art
Ancient Greek Erotic Art
Lysistrata
Lysistrata


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