Saturday, 7 March 2015

British Museum: The Virtuous Bottom

Socrates would have seen the same bottom. If you go to the new exhibition at the British Museum you will find yourself looking at a section of the Parthenon frieze. A beautiful young man is seen side-on; pertness in profile. While Socrates may have looked at the same thing, however, he would have understood something subtly different by it. He would, to be sure, have seen a good bottom. But he would also have seen a good bottom.

A beautiful bottom was, to the Ancient Greeks, also “a virtuous bottom”, says Dr Ian Jenkins, senior curator of Ancient Greece at the British Museum. And what precisely is a virtuous bottom? “The bottom of someone who is attractive — but who didn’t look over his shoulder to see who was looking at it.” So Socrates, a notorious pederast, would have had an entirely pure mind as he was looking at this? “Oh no,” says Jenkins. “He’d also think, ‘Mmm, peachy’.” Aha. This is, after all an exhibition of Greek art. Perhaps we should not be surprised if we meet one or two paradoxes along the way...

An hilarious and scholarly article in The Times by Catherine Nixey.

Defining Beauty: The body in ancient Greek art opens on Monday March 26th.

Can't wait.

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