Past and Present Nudist Cultures Part 2

The Naked Society

A Series on Past and Present Nudist Cultures

by Carlson Wade

Part II


Modern athletics call for a minimum of clothing. It seems odd that the very part of the body that is covered is one that is made more emphatic. The more we seek to conceal, the more we draw attention to it. The Greeks emphasized the values of developing a healthy mind in a healthy body this meant that thoughts were to be lofty, spiritual, beautiful and free from shame or inhibition. Nowhere could this be so successful as in gymnastics.

In Athens, during the time of Emperor Augustus, a magnificent gymnasium was built; called the ephebeion, it was the exercise ground of the ephebi, that is, young boys declared of full age and independent citizens at the age of 18. This gymnasium had its colonnades, baths, halls and spaces graced by naked philosophers, rhetoricians, poets and friends. With the gymnasium was generally combined the palaestra, the chief arena for bodily exercises and games of the boys. Here, nudity was a way of life among the young athletes.

Manly Beauty

It need hardly be emphasized that all the spaces in the huge gymnasia were adorned with works of art of every kind, with altars and statues of Hermes, Heracles and especially of Eros, but also of the Muses and other divinities. Thus to the beauty of the bodies of boys, youths and men, most harmoniously developed by regular bodily exercises, was added the daily sight of numerous marvels of art.

It is easy to understand how and why the Greeks developed into the most beauty-loving people that ever walked on earth. One can also understand how it was that no gymnasium or palaestra of the Greeks was ever without an altar or statue of Eros. The daily sight of the highest manly beauty served to inspire them to achieve new heights in mental and physical development.

Johann Goethe, t h e German author (1749-1832), in his Italian Journey once described an athletic contest he had seen in the arena at Verona: “The most beautiful attitudes, worth imitation in marble, appear therein. As they are merely well-grown, sturdy young people in short, scanty, white clothes, the sides are distinguished only by a colored badge. Especially beautiful is the position into which the striker falls while he runs down from the slanting surface and lifts his arm to strike the ball.”

Let anyone now pause to visualize an Athenian or Spartan palaestra, full of the joyous, boyish laughter of well-muscled youths bustling about in the naked splendor of their supple bronzed limbs, the whole beneath the delightful blue of the Greek sky, and he must admit that it was there that earthly beauty celebrated its highest triumphs.

Women Taboo

The Greeks kept the sexes apart since they well understood that disturbing influences might hinder the development of the aesthetic and cultural. The Greeks kept their gymnasia free from women; that is, no female creature might ever set her foot in any of these places intended for the education of the male even at the popular festivals of the great national games, women were excluded as spectators.

Pausanias in his Greek Descriptions (Vol. 6, 7) says it was the custom to throw those women down from the rock Typaeum at Olympia, if they were caught in the act of stealing in as spectators at the Olympic games, or even those who, on the days forbidden them, had crossed the river Alpheus, which separated the site of the festival from the rest of the ground.

On one occasion this was neglected. The mother of Peisirrhodus had stolen in so as to be present, with a mother’s joy easy to understand, at the hoped-for victory of her son. To avoid the danger of discovery she had disguised herself as a trainer; but when trying to leap over the barrier that shut off the trainers from the arena in order to congratulate her son on his victory, her scanty garments exposed her person. Considering that her family had produced several Olympic victors, she was not punished. But to avoid similar incidents in the future, it was ordered that all trainers go naked.

Strange Rule

While the prohibition which excluded women from viewing naked athletes did not prevail with equal strictness throughout Greece, at least Bockh on Pindar, Pythia (Vol. 9, p. 328), makes it probable that in the contests of the African-Greek colony of Cy-rene, women were permitted to watch the naked youths in their athletic prowess.

According to Pausanias, single girls could watch the contestants at Olympia. Married women were prohibited. Classical scholars have racked their brains to discover why the right to look on at their contests of naked boys and youths was permitted to single girls but not to married women.

This problem seems simple if we recall that the Greeks felt the greatest enjoyment of beauty, more than any people that ever existed. They desired at their national festivals to surround themselves only with beauty, hence they allowed young girls to look on while they made the married women remain at home.

The Dorians and especially Sparta were freer from prejudice in this respect. Plato (Laws, Vol. 7, p. 804) urges that young males and young females carry on gymnastic exercises without discrimination as between the sexes. His demand was carried out among the non-Dorian states, at least by the inhabitants of Chios, where, according to the express testimony of Athenaeus (Vol. 13, p. 566), no person considered it offensive to watch the running and racing contests of young naked boys and girls in the gymnasia.

bodybuilder nudist naked

In Sparta, girls and young men carried out gymnastic exercises together; it is probable that on some occasions they wore a little scant covering, but this is debatable when we understand the wholesome attitude toward nudity. This is the opinion of Roman authors when they speak of the nuda palaestra, the naked wrestling place of Spartan youths.

This explains how the expression, “to behave in Dorian fashion,” became synonymous with “to strip oneself” which would explain also that the athletes wore clothes in public but were in a state of raw nature in certain places. In the Spartan gymnasia there was one principle: “Undress and practice gymnastics together, or get away.” This excluded the idly gaping spectators who could be offensive.

Surprisingly enough, this is the same principle of modern nudism.

Everyone must be in o state of nature or be gone!

In spite of nudity, there was regard to be held for decency and modesty in the gymnasia. This is clear from a passage in Aristophanes, Clouds, 973: “And it behooved the boys, while sitting in the school of the gymnastic-master, to cover the thigh, so that they might exhibit nothing indecent to strangers; and then again, after rising from the ground, to smooth down the sand and to take care not to leave an impression of the person for their lovers. And no boy in those days anointed himself below the navel so that the first tender down bloomed on his privates as it were on fresh apples.”

Love of Beauty

The Greeks loved beauty and the glories of manly perfection; they made awards for the most masculine and attractive men based upon health and superb vigor. At the festival of the Panathencea, young men were select-ed from different tribes according to their masculine beauty and dexterity for the torch race.

There is the legend of King Candaules who so loved the beauty of his wife, boasted about her and had to display her naked to his friends. A favorite friend of the family, Gyges, resisted, feeling that such a public display was shameful. This, again, shows that the Greeks had a high regard for nudity as Such not as an exaggeration.

Flute players appeared at private festivals either naked or wearing a sparse garment. Anaxarchus, the favorite of Alexander the Great, was fond of having his wine poured out for him by a beautiful naked girl.

The Stoic philosopher, Persaeus, the confidant of King Antigcnus, relates of a banquet given by the king at which the conversation was at first very serious. “But as the drinking increased among other amusements, Thessalian dancers entered the dining-hall and danced stark naked except for a girdle; this pleased the guests so exceedingly that, enchanted, they expressed their approval, sprang up from their seats and declared the king happy in that he could always enjoy such delight for his eyes.”

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At the wedding of his daughter Hippolochus tells us, “Naked female acrobats also appeared, who with naked swords performed dangerous tricks and spat fire.”

Numerous vase paintings, on which such artists are represented either quite naked or only wearing an apron, prove that such exhibitions were frequent; in the Hellenistic period, they enjoyed general popularity.

That, considering the freedom from prejudice of the attitude of the Greeks toward nakedness, the naked were welcomed in ceremonies concerning the worship of the gods, is self-intelligible. “Nudism to these people was not exposure as we erroneously regard it today. It was a healthful way to call attention to the values of developing a superior body and a mature, neurosis-free way of life.

{To be continued)

Read the first part here

The American Sunbather
ISSUE: Number 2, April 1967
Publisher: The American Sunbather and Naturist Review

Past and Present Nudist Cultures

by Carlson Wade

Part I

Few civilizations have ever attained the glory that was Greece; few, if any, societies have ever achieved such a healthful attitude toward nakedness and the health-giving benefits of nudity as the Greeks. The famed Greek Olympics were an expression of the delight of the people in the human body. It is extremely difficult for modern folks, accustomed to the wearing of clothes, to understand the motives of the Greeks for nudity at their games.

A sense of shame was occasioned by the wearing of clothes not the reverse and garments were worn for climatic and hygienic reasons. The Greeks felt that to cover the private parts alone, when the rest of the body was unencumbered with clothing, would suggest some contempt or feeling of shame for the genitals, where in fact their opinion on the subject was the exact opposite: the genitalia, as the instrument of exalted pleasure and miraculous fertility, inspiring them with gratitude and awe.

nude boy outdoors with a horseNude Greek Boys

The average Greek boy was initiated into a healthful attitude on clothes by being given a chlamys as a typical costume. It was a kind of shawl which was fashened on the right shoulder or on the breast by a button or clasp and was worn until the lad reached the age of about 16. Smaller boys wore, at least in Athens and until the time of the Peloponnesian War, a short chiton a rather thin shirt. This may be compared to a modern T-shirt. In other words, boys under 16 went naked except for a T-shirt.

Aristophanes, the Greek poet and dramatist (444-380 B.C.), in his Clouds, praises the hardening effect of nudity: “I will, therefore,’describe the ancient system of education, how it was ordered, when I flourished in the advocacy of justice and temperance was in the fashion.

“In the first place it was incumbent that no one should hear the voice of a boy uttering a syllable; and next, that those from the same quarter of the town should march in good order through the streets to the school of the Harp-master, naked, and in a body, even if it were to snow as thick as meal.” This alludes to obedience and discipline and a lack of the eroticism attached to our modern-day concept of nudism.

It is also known that King Lycurgus sought to harden young boys of Sparta and would ask them to wear, summer and winter, the same chiton that resembled a T-shirt. Otherwise their healthful young bodies were naked to onlookers, to their superiors, and to themselves.

There was almost no emphasis upon eroticism of nudism. The Greeks had ample opportunity to see boys and young men in nakedness; boys were in the baths and palaestrae, the gymnasia and wrestling schools for three-quarters of the day and were consequently seen indeed quite naked, without hideous swimming drawers.

An undergarment for the more modest was the himation it was a large, four-cornered piece of cloth which was thrown over the left shoulder and, held firmly with the arm, was then drawn away on the back towards the right side over or under the right arm, and then again thrown over the left shoulder or left arm. In cold climate, the himation was worn. In mild climate, it was dispensed with and the simple chiton was used often, this, too, was discarded and just a himation worn. It is said that Ages-ilaus, the king of Sparta, disliked wearing any garments and that “he always went along without shoes and without a chiton unless the water was bitterly cold so that the soldiers used to say jokingly that it was sign of intense cold when he wore a chiton.”

naked boy on the rockNaked Athletes

Christoph Wieland, the famed poet (1733-1813), wrote in his Essay on The Ideals of the Greek Artists that Greek art obtained the mastery in the treatment of the naked boy since the sight was a daily occurrence. ‘The Greeks had more opportunity and were more at liberty to contemplate, study, and copy the beauty represented to them by Nature and their times than is the case with modern artists.

“The gymnasia (the word gymnos means ‘naked’ in Greek and indicates that nakedness was a rule for young boy athletes), the public national games, the contests for the prize of beauty at Lesbos, at Tenedos, in the Temple of Ceres at Basilis in Arcadia, the wrestling matches between naked boys in Sparta, in Crete, etc., the Temple of Venus at Corinth, whose young priestesses even Pindar does not blush to celebrate in song, the Thessalian dancers, who dance naked at the banquets of the great all these opportunities of seeing the most beautiful forms uncovered and in most lively movement, beautified by emulation, in the most varied positions and groupings, were bound to fill the imagination of artists with a quantity of beautiful forms, and by comparing the beautiful with the more beautiful to prepare their minds for rising to the idea of the most beautiful.”

Modesty Still Prevailed

As might be assumed, nakedness was part of a social life, yet it had its time and place-just as in our modern society. Plato, the Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.), says in his Republic (Vol. 5, p. 452): “It is not long ago since it was ridiculous amongst the Greeks, as it still is among most of the non-Greeks, for men to allow themselves to be seen naked.” He adds thot nakedness was valuable for athletics and festivals but not for gross sensual purposes.

In confirmation of this view, one may refer to the example of Odysseus or Ulysses in the Odyssey (by Homer, the Greek epic poet in the 9th century B.C., Volume 6, p. 126) who is washed ashore, shipwrecked and naked in the land of the Phaeacians, and, when he hears the laughter of maidens in the neighborhood, “breaks off from the thick brush a leafy branch with his strong hand to cover his nakedness.” Yet, on board ship, he and his fellow sailors went naked because there was no need for feeling shame.

Naked Olympics

In the national games at Olympia, from about 720 B.C., it was the custom for the runner to appear, not completely naked, but with an apron round his hips, as Thucydides expressly attests in a well-known passage. Only, we should be cautious in attributing this to some moral reason. This wearing of an apron is an influence of the Orient and East. Plato and Herodotus make this clear.

This also follows from the fact that the Greeks freed themselves from the Oriental point of view and from 720 B.C. onwards allowed runners and, indeed, all the other contestants to appear quite naked.

Consequently the Greeks, the healthiest and most aesthetically perfect people known to the world, soon felt a covering of the sexual parts, while the body was otherwise uncovered, to be unnatural, and recognized that such a covering only had any meaning if one had ascribed a moral and inferior value to their function.

Far from being ashamed of these sex organs, the Greeks rather regarded them with pious awe, and treated them with an almost religious reverence as the mystical instruments of propagation, as the symbols of Nature, life-producing and inexhaustibly fruitful. There was a feeling of awe and pious adoration of the incomprehensible secret of the power of propagation belonging to Nature, that ever renews itself, and of the preservation of the human race that is rendered possible.

Thus, the phallus became a religious symbol; the worship of the phallus in its most various form is the naive adoration of the inexhaustible fruitfulness of Nature and the gratitude of the sensitive human being for the propagation of the human race.

The Greeks, on all occasions when clothing was felt to be unnecessary, burdensome, or impossible, went over to complete nakedness, without making use of any kind of apron or piece of stuff that concealed the genitalia. Also, the countless representations in pictorial art, which have scenes from the gymnasium for their subject, especially vase paintings, attest complete nakedness and hardly ever cause any such offense as the humdrum Romans of olden times felt at this complete denudation, as is shown by a verse of Ennius, preserved by Cicero, the Roman orator (106-43 B.C.), in Tusculanae Disputationes: “Shame has its beginning in public nakedness.”

three naked boys crossing the riverNaked Boys Dance

Gymnopedia (literally “the naked boys’ dance”) was a gymnastic festival which, after 670 B.C., was held at Sparta every year, later arranged in honor of the Spartans who had fallen at Thyrea (544 B.C.), and was celebrated with dances and bodily exercises of naked boys. It is characteristic that this festival, which served for the glorification of the beauty of boys and lasted from 6 to 10 days, was so highly thought of among the Spartans that not even the most disturbing events were allowed to keep them from it.

There are different versions of the dance. Bekker in his Anecdota (Vol. 1, p. 234) tells us that naked boys would sing songs and dance. Hesychius says: “According to some, this is a Spartan festival at which boys run nakedly round the altar at Amyklaion, at the same time striking one another on the back. But this is false, for they celebrate their festival at the market place; also, no blows are given, but there are processions and choral songs of naked boys.”

We can see that in the Greek society, nudity was a healthful and invigorating way of life and succeeded in eliminating traumatic shocks of guilt and shame. We might never know the meaning of mental sickness and sexual deviations if this same attitude had survived the centuries.

End of Part One of a series entitled: The Naked Society, Past and Present Nudist Cultures.

ISSUE: Number 1, March 1967
Publisher: American Sunbather and Nudist Review

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