On Why Ancient Greek Male Statues Not Very Well Endowed

Photo: by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari

NEW YORK – In case you’ve ever wondered about the ancient Greek statues and other artworks depicting the nude male form with the incredibly impressive musculature and proportion, except in terms of one particular aspect, you are not alone. A recent article on Artsy delved into the issue of “Why Ancient Greek Sculptures Have Small Penises” noting that “to the contemporary eye, their bodies are ideal—except for one, ahem, seminal detail.”

An expert on ancient Greek art and sexuality, Andrew Lear- art historian, said, as reported on Artsy, “They have small to very small penises, compared to the average of humanity. And they’re usually flaccid.”

The Artsy article reported that in ancient Greece “around 400 BC… you’ll find that large, erect penises were not considered desirable, nor were they a sign of power or strength,” citing Aristophanes’ The Clouds for “the ideal traits of his male peers as ‘a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick.’”

Also cited is the 2016 book In Bed with the Ancient Greeks by historian Paul Chrystal who wrote, “The small penis was consonant with Greek ideals of male beauty. It was a badge of the highest culture and a paragon of civilization.”

In contrast, large, erect penises are associated with negative traits and satyrs, the half-man, half-goat creatures from mythology, as depicted in ancient Greek art, and fools in ancient comedy. Chrystal wrote, as reported in Artsy, “Big penises were vulgar and outside the cultural norm, something sported by the barbarians of the world… the sign of stupidity, more of a beast than a man.”

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari)

Lear added that Egyptians, long-time enemies of the ancient Greeks, were often represented as such and “If large phalluses represented gluttonous appetites, then ‘the conclusion can be drawn that the small, flaccid penis represented self-control,’” as Artsy reported.

Chrystal noted, as reported on Artsy, that “the penis was never a badge or virility or manliness in ancient Greece as it was in other cultures. Potency came from the intellect needed to power man’s responsibility to father children, prolong the family line and the oikos [the family unit or household], and sustain the polis [the city-state].”

The representation was symbolic. Lear said, “They used the penis as an index of character. It said something.”

The representation indicated whether the male could be relied upon or was a slave to his appetites. While the aesthetic choice may seem odd to the modern viewer, it cannot be denied that the ancient Greek male nudes are impressive works of art, regardless of how well-endowed, or not, they are. As reported on Artsy, “Then, as now, the male sex was seen to be the distillation of a man’s ability to dominate.”