For the Love of It—Pure Passions
Oh, to live in ancient Greece and never have to say: Do you think my butt looks too big in this tunic?
Greek males, especially the Athenians, adored the booty beautiful. Greeks even had a special word for it: callipygian, “with beautiful buttocks.” For those girls cursed with too-slender tushes, the Greeks invented posterior enhancers, apparently a padded number that lifted and tightened the rear view.
Long-ago Greeks had exacting standards but open-minded tastes. The buttocks in question could be female. Or male. They could belong to a teen working out in an all-male gymnasium, or to an exquisite nude statue of Aphrodite, goddess of love.
In fact, some of the major artistic hullaballoo that occurred in the third century B.C. can be chalked up to a stylistic breakthrough moment in sculpture. That is when an unknown master created a bronze of the love goddess, carrying loads of sexily folded draperies while looking over her shoulder at her shapely bare tush. The original has disappeared, but a very good first century B.C. Roman copy in marble called the Kallipygean Venus can be ogled at Naples’ marvelous museum.
Speaking of gorgeous behinds, the Greek city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily seems to have had well-endowed citizens. A famous story in Athenaeus’s Sages at Dinner tells of an island farmer who had two daughters. They began quarreling as to which had the more handsome hiney—and took their dispute into the street. A young man (the kind with a rich old father) just happened to be cruising by, and they persuaded him to vote. Back then, you could do things like that and not get arrested.
He chose the buttocks of the older sister, falling in love with the rest of her at the same time. Naturally there was a younger brother; when he heard his bro rhapsodize about the shapely derrieres, he had to see. Straightaway he fell in love with the body parts of the younger sister. Daddy, being rich, tried to get his sons to marry some upper-class dames, arguing that there must be some good-looking tushes in that crowd. The love-smitten brothers remained adamant, and their dad eventually gave in, marrying his sons to their callipygian true loves.
And the sisters? Endowed with brains as well as fine hindquarters, they quickly commissioned a temple to the Fair-buttocked Aphrodite, in which stood a cult statue—possibly the original of the one still seen in the Naples Museum. The religious cult of the Fair Buttocked in Syracuse had staying power, too; centuries later, Christian author Clement of Alexandria put it on his “shamefully erotic examples of pagan religious art” list.
Around 350 B.C., famed Athenian sculptor Praxiteles created a staggeringly beautiful, completely nude Aphrodite—the first ever seen. He’d done it as a commission for the Greek islanders on Kos; they, however, got huffy about the nudity and refused it. Unperturbed, Praxiteles took it back and sold it to the eager citizens of Knidos. He’d also made a clothed Aphrodite—which the folks on Kos received. The model for both statues was Phryne, a saucy hetera whose rich curves made her the Marilyn Monroe of her day.
On Knidos, the locals built a special temple to house the sculpture; soon, the novel beauty of a nude goddess of love became a tourist attraction. And a sexual attraction, according to one account. One young fan became so entranced that one night he hid himself within the temple, later manfully attempting to make love to the naked Aphrodite. Evidently he had a buttock fixation as well, since a stain allegedly appeared on the statue’s luscious rear thigh, where it remained ever after.
To create statues of the love goddess, Greek sculptors used live models, such as the hetera Phryne. The Marilyn Monroe of her day, her lush figure included beautiful buttocks—always a crowd-pleaser with the Greeks.