from a sense of shame; 4) for aesthetic reasons, as decoration, pleasure, beauty, and to entice the opposite

sex; 5) for apotropaic motives, to turn away the effects
of magic, sorcery, the evil eye, and hostile spirits. We
shall see that one or more of these concerns can
also describe what nudity once meant for the Greeks-and how it changed.2
Though it will not serve as a protection against the
weather (1), nakedness, like clothing or armor, was
used to differentiate social groups (2), in life and in artwork.
Clothes, in fact, distinguishes human society, civilized
people, from animals and wild beasts, which are
naked. People wear clothes, animals do not. In a
clothed society, nonetheless, nakedness is special, and can
be used as a “costume.” As it developed, Greek nudity
came to mark a comparison between Greek and nonGreek, as well as between men and women. The latter
Differentiation is associated with the most fundamental connotation of nakedness, the sense of shame, vulnerability and
exposure it arouses in person (3), and the related sense
of shock induced by its sight. Garments was created to
Prevent such powerful emotions by covering the human body, especially the male genitals, the phallus, and female genitals and breast.
public is fairly worldwide.3 There originally existed in

Classical antiquity, as elsewhere, a garment designed
to hide the wearer’s sex organ, a loin cloth, perizoma or
diazoma, as the Greeks usually called it. The attractiveness of
the naked body (4) has regularly been exalted. Its sexual and
aesthetic attractiveness, as Kenneth Clark has shown, has
caused an alternative word to be used: this facet of nakedness is known as “nudity.”4
In the early Near East Ishtar,5 and in the West
Aphrodite,’ the goddesses of love, were traditionally
naked. The attractiveness and strength of the naked man
body were also commended, and heroes, like the Master of Animals, were symbolized naked, or wearing
only a belt.7 It was the Greeks who brought into our
culture the ideal of male nudity as the highest sort of
Attractiveness. Greek art and sport exalted the beauty of
the youthful male athlete, whose body provided the
The picture of the
Bare young male, the kouros statue of early Greek art
was kaloskagathos, “beautiful and commendable.”8
On account of the powerful emotions of shame, shock,
lust, admiration, violation, pity, and disgust aroused
by the sight of the naked human body, the most frequent associations are with taboo, magic, and ritual
(5). When the sexual organ was uncovered, its power
was unleashed. Apotropaic and bewitching nudity, involving the exposure of male genitals and female
breasts, and the exhibition of the enlarged male phallus have been used from early times, and testify to the
enduring force of this sophisticated picture.
can protect against the evil eye. Like the Gorgon’s
gaze, it can paralyze or protect.
Vulnerability of a woman’s breast or genitals, for instance,
Additionally function as powerful magic.9 In art and in life,

belief in such magic powers is well attested in many
cultures throughout history, and has lived into our
own times.
as well as obscene gestures, still serve as protection
against the evil eye in many parts of the world. When
Clothing is standard, exhibitionist actions of nakedness often
have a charming significance. In the kingdom of magic, nudity
wards off a fascination or other harmful form of magic, compels love, and gives strength to one’s own practice of
society nudity was special, monstrous, dangerous, and
Strong,”1 entire nakedness was prevented in regular life. was saved for particular situations or unique
Rite services.
Language, too, maintained traces of this magic power
of nakedness.
avoided, so that family nudism pictures could be maintained. A
linguistic taboo thereby caused the form of the word for
“naked” to transform, in all the Indoeuropean languages.
Though gymnos, nudus, nackt, etc. were all originally
related to each other-so linguists assure us-they
were all transformed in varied and unexpected ways,
so that their original likeness is practically unrecognizable.12 For most parts of the body, there is what
Devoto called a “succinct” terminology:13 the words for
“heart,” “eye,” “foot,” “knee,” “nose,” “tooth,” “eyebrow” are essentially the same in all the Indoeuropean

languages. Differences can be accounted for, even clarified, by linguistic “rules.” But words for “nude,”
In addition to the names of specific parts of the bodyfinger, tongue, hand, and hair-are different in the
different languages. How can this be explained? Indoeuropeans clearly had fingers, tongues, hands, hair,