This article caught my attention because I have always wondered about this myself. A few years ago, when my husband and I went to the Rodin Museum we asked ourselves the same question. At first I thought it was a matter of balancing the weight of the sculptures: if there’s too much weight in front, it could be difficult to compensate it by adding some kind of weight at the back… I was never more wrong!
This article was originally written by Anibal Clemente Cristóbal in his blog “Historia y Arqueología”.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Torres of Miter Arbórea for sharing this article in LinkedIn.
Why do Classical Greek sculptures have small penises?
The answer is more serious than it may appear. As explained by a professor and expert in Classical Antiquity, after forty years of research the mystery of the famous “Bronzes of Riace” also known as the “Warriors of Riace” is revealed.
In 1972, two Greek statues dating around 5th Century BC were found by scuba divers 300 meters from the Riace Coast (Calabria), in the south of Italy. During the inauguration of the Magna Grecia Museum (a splendid home for these works of art) presided by Prime Minister Mario Renzi, details from investigations about the two impressive bronze pieces were disclosed: it is discovered that they were created in Argo and Athens, inside the workshops of the best artists of the time. It is assumed that during the Roman era, a shipwreck caused them to fall into the sea while being transported to Rome (Romans were seduced by the beauty of the Classical Greek art, thus they tried to decorate their houses with these magnificent pieces). Fortunately, many marble replicas have been fabricated.
Image courtesy of: http://arte.laguia2000.com
Greek bronze pieces- which were both grandiose and costly- numbered in the thousands during that time, but they have reached us mainly through marble replicas. Due to ignorance, (most) art made from bronze were melted. However those that were able to survive until our day and age such as the “Riace”, allow us to admire their (utmost) precision: the veins, the perfectly-defined curls, the eyelashes, the teeth that appear in between the lips, the scrotum behind which we could perceive the shape of testicles.
Given this symmetry and perfect harmony, it is striking that the two gigantic warriors each present a small penis. Why are the penises small? This question, asked by many as they admire the sculptures in the museum, is spontaneous: Why do Classical Greek statues have small penises? Surely, it is neither due to commonplace prudence nor due to fear of creating public embarrassment. The reasons for this were significant.
The Greeks’ ability in using sophisticated techniques and achieving perfection, especially in reproducing the human body, has fascinated the whole world. For instance, the perfection of the “Riace Bronzes” is astonishing, but their virility was considered, with much surprise, exceedingly small. The reason behind these limited dimensions is much more serious than it may seem: where statues are concerned, a large penis could mean little control over one’s impulses and the inability to exercise restraint. “In Ancient Greece, a small penis was a coveted aspect by the alpha male” (the male which the majority aspires to become because it is the dominant figure), explains Professor Andrew Lear to the Quartz web, an expert in Classical Antiquity who teaches in Harvard, Columbia and New York University.
“There is a distinction between the non-erected masculine genitalia of ideal men (such as heroes, gods and athletes) compared to the thick and erected penises of the satyrs (mythical creatures characterized by their carefree attitude, drunkenness and untamed lust) as well as with other types of men who are not regaded as ideal. The statues of very old and decrepit men were usually represented with big penises”, added Professor Lear. Undeniably, for Greeks, a big penis defined a vulgar, wild and barbaric man. (Back then) Beauty was something else. In fact, Professor Lear did not have to discover this; the famous playwright Aristophanes already wrote about it in “The Clouds”: “Healthy chest, wide shoulders, short tounge, strong buttocks and small member.”
Those were different times. The ideal Greek man was rational, intellectual and authoritative. This concept was inherited by the Romans: since Vetrubius (80 BC – 15 BC)- an architect, engineer and a Roman writer, the most famous architectural theorist of all times- the proportions from the Classical era have always been a real obsession for artists and sculptors of all periods… In that ideal governed by harmony, the small penis symbolized virtude, spiritual superiority, the allure of the hero. We can likewise appreciate this in Michaelangelo’s David, a great figure of the Italian Renaissance. This idea has evolved over time. Now, the penis’ size matters, something that according to Professor Lear could be because of the “expansion of pornography”. While a Greek man considered that beauty was elegance, which translated to behavior, the tendency today is to gravitate towards a false concept of beauty perhaps caused by the (general) acceptance of plastic surgery. Times have (surely) changed.
For those who are wondering…
It is not merely out of caprice that I have translated this article. I admit, I thought about drawing a few laughs from people’s first impression. But the reason goes far beyond having a good time.
In women’s struggle for equity, fairness and higher regard from the society, it is easy to make light of what men are going through themselves. After all, they are considered as the “oppressors”, our “enemies”, aren’t they? Well, that is not always true! I know many women who tolerate and encourage macho attitude from men. Honestly, isn’t that far worse? Yes, most men oppress us, but there are times when we ourselves are also very tough, judgemental, biased and very demanding to our fellow women.
The truth is, I would like to question how it is to be masculine in the time of now. I wrote about being feminine during modern times in my last post, but have we ever stopped to wonder about the type pressure our male counterparts have to face to demonstrate their manhood? As far as gender equity goes, it is not surprising for them to be equally affected by the evolving definition of what is “masculine”.
There are so many male figures across continents and along human history who have been considered as the ideal alpha- he who embodies the very definition of masculinity. Images ranging from Greek heroes to football players are surely flashing through your mind. Every culture would also have their own understanding of manliness. For instance, did you know that in some countries wearing a flower behind the ear is considered as enhancing not only to the female beauty but also to the male attractiveness?
It may appear that men are not bothered by these issues, but isn’t nonchalance also expected from the homme? How would we know if they are not “allowed” to show sensitivity or express such concerns without being snickered at?
The wider object of this post is to create awareness that if we are really determined to build a society that is generous and unbiased, the first step really is to reach out for reconciliation, search for forgiveness… Perhaps in admitting our own shortcomings and forgiving ourselves first, we may find it easier to pardon those who do us wrong and make our pursuit of justice a journey less rough. Possibly this process of reconciliation could lead us towards finding a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it- compassion, in short.
Where there is compassion, there is understanding. And where there is understanding, appreaciation of the other becomes a natural reaction. When that time comes, maybe people’s worth will be recognized essentially for their deeds and words (as reflection of their thoughts). By then, maybe there will be no need to make a big deal whenever a woman’s name is included among the “Top-Whatever-It-Is” list because it will be normal. Likewise, masculinity will not be a hindrance to a display of men’s emotions and they can freely be in touch with their feminine side without being targets of jokes and teasings.
At the end of the day, it is neither feminism nor male chauvinism which would bring “true” progress to our society. It would benefit us more to define what it is to be a humanist and for that definition to be put into practice.
Here’s to a brighter future!
- “¿Por qué las clásicas esculturas griegas tienen el pene pequeño?”, available at: http://www.historiayarqueologia.com/profiles/blogs/por-que-las-clasicas-esculturas-griegas-tienen-el-pene-pequeno?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=linkedin
- Merriam-Webster online dictionary, available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion