An exhibition at the British Museum promises to lift the lid on what beauty meant for the ancient Greeks. But while we gaze at the serene marble statues on display – straining male torsos and soft female flesh – are we seeing what the ancients saw?
The question I’m asking here isn’t a philosophical one, but rather it’s to do with our expectations and assumptions about beauty, sex appeal and sex itself. The feelings that beautiful faces and bodies rouse in us no doubt seem both personal and instinctive – just as they presumably did for the ancient Greeks who first made and enjoyed these artworks. But our reactions are inevitably shaped by the society we live in.
Greek attitudes towards sex were different from our own, but are all those myths about the sex lives of the ancient Greeks true? And how does this affect how we view the art?
Here are the facts behind four commonly held beliefs.
Greek men were all bisexual
It was certainly the norm in ancient Greece for a man to find both sexes attractive. But the private lives of men in classical Athens – the city we know most about – were very different from anything that a “bisexual” man might experience today.
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