History of nudity

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Women entertainers perform at a celebration in Ancient Egypt; the dancers are naked and the musician wears a typical pleated garment as well as the cone of perfumed fat on top of her wig that melts slowly to emit its precious odors; both groups wear extensive jewelry, wigs, and cosmetics; neither wear shoes - Thebes tomb c. 1400 B.C.
Basalt statue of Cleopatra VII Ptolemaic times

The history of nudity refers to social attitudes to nudity in different cultures in history.

The wearing of clothing at various occasions is common in most human societies. It is not known when humans began wearing clothes. Anthropologists believe that animal skins and vegetation were adapted into coverings as protection from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates; alternatively, covering may have been invented first for other purposes, such as magic, decoration, cult, or prestige, and later found to be practical as well.

However, many cultures have at times dispensed with clothing, at least for some purposes and in some situations, or even at all time.[citation needed]

Paleolithic history[edit]

Because animal skins and vegetable materials decompose readily there is no archeological evidence of when and how clothing developed. However, recent studies of human lice suggest that clothing may have become commonplace in human society around 72,000 years ago.[1] If that is correct, it would mean that for around 128,000 years and the majority of anatomically modern human history, humans may not have worn clothes. Some anthropologists believe that Homo habilis and even Homo erectus may have used animal skins for protection placing the origins of clothing at perhaps a million years or more.[2]

Ancient Egypt[edit]

Fashions in ancient Egypt did not change much over the millennia. The ancient Egyptians wore the minimum of clothing. Men were commonly bare chested and barefoot. They wore a tunic around their waist. Women commonly wore a loose draped or see-through fabric. Women entertainers performed naked. Children went without clothing until puberty, at about age 12.[3]

Though the minimum amount of clothing was the norm in ancient Egypt, the custom was viewed as humiliating by some other ancient cultures. For example, the Hebrew Bible records: "So shall the king of the Assyrians lead away the prisoners of Egypt, and the captivity of Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered to the shame of Egypt".[4] Similar images occur on many bas-reliefs, also from other empires.

Ancient Greece[edit]

Minoan youths boxing nude but for a girdle (fresco on the Greek island of Santorini)

In some ancient Mediterranean cultures, even well past the hunter-gatherer stage, such as Minoan,[citation needed] athletic and/or cultist nudity of men and boys – and rarely, of women and girls – was a natural concept.

Ancient Greece had a particular fascination for aesthetics, which was also reflected in clothing or lack thereof. Sparta had rigorous codes of training and physical exercise naked. Athletes would compete naked in public sporting events. Spartan women, as well as men, would sometimes be naked in public processions and festivals. In the case of women, this practice was designed to encourage virtue while the men were away at war.[5] Women and goddesses were normally portrayed clothed in sculpture of the Classical period, with the exception of the nude Aphrodite.

A kouros, an Archaic depiction of the ideal male nude

In general, however, concepts of either shame or offense, or the social comfort of the individual, seem to have been deterrents of public nudity in the rest of Greece and the ancient world in the east and west, with exceptions in what is now South America, and in Africa and Australia. Polybius asserts that Celts typically fought naked, "The appearance of these naked warriors was a terrifying spectacle, for they were all men of splendid physique and in the prime of life."[6]

In antiquity even before the Classical era, e.g. on Minoan Crete, athletic exercise was an important part in daily life. In fact, the Greeks credited several mythological figures with athletic accomplishments, and male gods (especially Apollo and Heracles, patrons of sport) were commonly depicted as athletes. While Greek sculpture often showed males completely nude, a new concept for females, "Venus Pudica" (or partially nude) appeared: see the Greek "Nike of Samothrace".[citation needed]

Nudity in sport was very common, with almost all sports performed naked. As a tradition it was probably first introduced in the city-state of Sparta, during the late archaic period.[citation needed]

Example of the Cnidian Aphrodite type

The civilization of ancient Greece (Hellas), during the Archaic period, had an athletic and cultic aesthetic of nudity which typically included adult and teenage males, but at times also boys, women and girls. The love for beauty had also included the human body, beyond the love for nature, philosophy, the arts etc. The Greek word gymnasium means "a place to train naked". Male athletes competed naked, but most city-states of the time allowed no female participants or even spectators at those events, Sparta being a notable exception.[citation needed]

Nudity in religious ceremonies was also practiced in Greece. The statue of the Moscophoros (the "Calf-bearer"), a remnant of the archaic Acropolis of Athens, depicts a young man carrying a calf on his shoulders, presumably taking the animal to the altar for sacrifice. Interestingly enough, the Moschophoros is not completely nude: a piece of very fine, almost transparent cloth is carefully draped over his shoulders, upper arms and front thighs, which nevertheless left his genitals purposely exposed. In this case the garment apparently fulfilled a purely ceremonial, priestly function in which modesty was not an issue.[citation needed]

In Greek culture, depictions of erotic nudity were considered normal. The Greeks were conscious of the exceptional nature of their nudity, noting that "generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians, the custom is held to be dishonourable; loves of youths share the evil repute in which philosophy and naked sports are held, because they are inimical to tyranny;"[7] In both ancient Greece and ancient Rome, public nakedness was also accepted in the context of public bathing. It was also common for a person to be punished by being partially or completely stripped and lashed in public; in some legal systems judicial corporal punishments on the bare buttocks persisted up to or even beyond the feudal age, either only for minors or also for adults, even till today but rarely still in public. In Biblical accounts of the Roman Imperial era, prisoners were often stripped naked, as a form of humiliation.[citation needed]

Myron's 5th century Discobolos, in the British Museum

Nudity in sport spread to the whole of Greece, Greater Greece and even its furthest colonies, and the athletes from all its parts, coming together for the Olympic Games and the other Panhellenic Games, competed naked in almost all disciplines, such as boxing, wrestling, pankration (a free-style mix of boxing and wrestling, serious physical harm allowed) -in such martial arts equal chances in terms of grip and body protection require a non-restrictive uniform, as presently common, or the bare-, stadion and various other foot races including relay race, and the pentathlon (made up of wrestling, stadion, long jump, javelin throw and discus throw). However, they did not always perform naked during chariot races, though there are depictions of naked chariot racers as well.[citation needed]

It is believed to be rooted in the religious notion that athletic excellence was an ‘esthetical’ offering to the gods (nearly all games fitted in religious festivals), and indeed at many games it was the privilege of the winner to be represented naked as a votive statue offered in a temple, or even to be immortalized as model for a god's statue. Performing naked certainly was also welcome as a measure to prevent foul play, which was punished publicly on the spot by the judges (often religious dignitaries) with a sound lashing. The offender was naked when he was whipped.[citation needed]

Evidence of Greek nudity in sport comes from the numerous surviving depictions of athletes (sculpture, mosaics and vase paintings). Famous athletes were honored by a statue erected for their commemoration (see Milo of Croton). A few writers have insisted that the athletic nudity in Greek art is just an artistic convention, finding it unbelievable that anybody would have run naked. This view could be ascribed to late-Victorian prudishness applied anachronistically to ancient times. Other cultures in antiquity did not practice athletic nudity and condemned the Greek practice.[citation needed] Their rejection of naked sports was in turn condemned by the Greeks as a token of tyranny and political repression.[citation needed]

Greek athletes, even though naked, seem to have made a point of avoiding exposure of their glans, for example by infibulation, or wearing of a kynodesme.[citation needed]

While statues of males often showed complete nudity, female statues often were shown with the concept of "Venus Pudica" (partially clothed or modest). A prime example is the Nike of Samothrace female statue.[citation needed]

Ancient Rome[edit]

Roman Neo-Attic stele depicting a warrior in a muscle cuirass, idealizing the male form without nudity

Ancient Roman attitudes toward male nudity differed from those of the Greeks, whose ideal of masculine excellence was expressed by the nude male body in art and in such real-life venues as athletic contests. The toga, by contrast, distinguished the body of the adult male citizen at Rome.[8] The poet Ennius (ca. 239–169 BC) declared that "exposing naked bodies among citizens is the beginning of public disgrace (flagitium)," a sentiment echoed by Cicero.[9]

Public nudity might be offensive or distasteful even in traditional settings; Cicero derides Mark Antony as undignified for appearing near-naked as a participant in the Lupercalia festival, even though it was ritually required.[10] Negative connotations of nudity included defeat in war, since captives were stripped, and slavery. Slaves for sale were often displayed naked to allow buyers to inspect them for defects, and to symbolize that they lacked the right to control their own body.[11] The disapproval of nudity was less a matter of trying to suppress inappropriate sexual desire than of dignifying and marking the citizen's body.[12] Thus the retiarius, a type of gladiator who fought with face and flesh exposed, was thought to be unmanly.[13]

The influence of Greek art, however, led to "heroic" nude portrayals of Roman men and gods, a practice that began in the 2nd century BC. When statues of Roman generals nude in the manner of Hellenistic kings first began to be displayed, they were shocking—not simply because they exposed the male figure, but because they evoked concepts of royalty and divinity that were contrary to Republican ideals of citizenship as embodied by the toga.[14] In art produced under Augustus Caesar, the adoption of Hellenistic and Neo-Attic style led to more complex signification of the male body shown nude, partially nude, or costumed in a muscle cuirass.[15] Romans who competed in the Olympic Games presumably followed the Greek custom of nudity, but athletic nudity at Rome has been dated variously, possibly as early as the introduction of Greek-style games in the 2nd century BC but perhaps not regularly till the time of Nero around 60 AD.[16]

At the same time, the phallus was depicted ubiquitously. The phallic amulet known as the fascinum (from which the English word "fascinate" ultimately derives) was supposed to have powers to ward off the evil eye and other malevolent supernatural forces. It appears frequently in the archaeological remains of Pompeii in the form of tintinnabula (wind chimes) and other objects such as lamps.[17] The phallus is also the defining characteristic of the imported Greek god Priapus, whose statue was used as a "scarecrow" in gardens. A penis depicted as erect and very large was laughter-provoking, grotesque, or apotropaic.[18] Roman art regularly features nudity in mythological scenes, and sexually explicit art appeared on ordinary objects such as serving vessels, lamps, and mirrors, as well as among the art collections of wealthy homes.

Bare-breasted goddesses on the Augustan Altar of Peace
Woman wearing a strophium during sex (Casa del Centenario, Pompeii)

Respectable Roman women were portrayed clothed. Partial nudity of goddesses in Roman Imperial art, however, can highlight the breasts as dignified but pleasurable images of nurturing, abundance, and peacefulness.[19] The completely nude female body as portrayed in sculpture was thought to embody a universal concept of Venus, whose counterpart Aphrodite is the goddess most often depicted as a nude in Greek art.[20] By the 1st century AD, Roman art shows a broad interest in the female nude engaged in varied activities, including sex.

The erotic art found in Pompeii and Herculaneumt may depict women, presumed to be prostitutes, performing sex acts either naked or often wearing a strophium (strapless bra) that covers the breasts even when otherwise nude.[21] Latin literature describes prostitutes displaying themselves naked at the entrance to their brothel cubicles, or wearing see-through silk garments.[22]

The display of the female body made it vulnerable; Varro thought the Latin word for "sight, gaze", visus, was etymologically related to vis, "force, power". The connection between visus and vis, he said, also implied the potential for violation, just as Actaeon gazing on the naked Diana violated the goddess.[23]

One exception to public nudity was the baths, though attitudes toward nude bathing also changed over time. In the 2nd century BC, Cato preferred not to bathe in the presence of his son, and Plutarch implies that for Romans of these earlier times it was considered shameful for mature men to expose their bodies to younger males.[24] Later, however, men and women might even bathe together.[25] Some Hellenized or Romanized Jews resorted to epispasm, a surgical procedure to restore the foreskin "for the sake of decorum".[26]

Japan[edit]

Sumo wrestling, practiced by men in ceremonial dress of loincloth size that exposes the buttocks like a jock strap, in general is considered sacred under Shintō. Public, communal bathing of mixed sexes also has a long history in Japan.

Traditional cultures[edit]

In some hunter-gatherer cultures in warm climates, nudity (or near-complete nudity) has been, until the introduction of Western culture or Islam, or still is, the social norm for both men and women.[27]

Complete nudity among men and complete or near-complete nudity among women is still common for Mursi, Surma, Nuba, Karimojong, Kirdi, Dinka and sometimes Massai people in Africa, as well as Matses, Yanomami, Suruwaha, Xingu, Matis and Galdu people in South America.[28] Many indigenous peoples in Africa and South America train and perform sport competitions naked[29] Nuba people in South Sudan and xingu tribe in the Amazon region in Brazil, for example, wrestle naked, whereas Dinka, Surma and Mursi in South Sudan and Ethiopia, arrange stick fights.[30][31] Indian male monks Digambara practice yoga naked (or sky-clad, as they prefer to call it).[32] With the ever increasing influences of Western and Muslim cultures, these traditions may soon vanish though.

In some African and Melanesian cultures, men going completely naked except for a string tied about the waist are considered properly dressed for hunting and other traditional group activities. In a number of tribes in the South Pacific island of New Guinea, men use hard gourdlike pods as penis sheaths. Yet a man without this "covering" could be considered to be in an embarrassing state of nakedness. Among the Chumash people of southern California, men were usually naked, and women were often topless. Native Americans of the Amazon Basin usually went nude or nearly nude; in many native tribes, the only clothing worn was some device worn by men to clamp the foreskin shut. However, other similar cultures have had different standards. For example, other native North Americans avoided total nudity, and the Native Americans of the mountains and west of South America, such as the Quechuas, kept quite covered. These taboos normally only applied to adults; Native American children often went naked until puberty if the weather permitted (a 10-year old Pocahontas scandalized the Jamestown settlers by appearing at their camp in the nude).[citation needed]

Ibn Battuta (1304–1369) judges the character of the people of Mali:

Among their bad qualities are the following. The women servants, slave-girls, and young girls go about in front of everyone naked, without a stitch of clothing on them. Women go into the sultan's presence naked and without coverings, and his daughters also go about naked.[33]

In 1498, at Trinity Island, Trinidad, Christopher Columbus found the women entirely naked, whereas the men wore a light girdle called guayaco. At the same epoch, on the Para Coast of Brazil, the girls were distinguished from the married women by their absolute nudity. The same absence of costume was observed among the Chaymas of Cumaná, Venezuela, and Du Chaillu noticed the same among the Achiras in Gabon.[34]

Recent history[edit]

A man nude in public during the World Naked Bike Ride in London, 2013.

In Europe up to the 18th century, it was common for gender-segregated bathing in rivers. During the Enlightenment, taboos against nudity began to grow and by the Victorian era, public nakedness was considered obscene. In addition to beaches being segregated by gender, bathing machines were also used to allow people who had changed into bathing suits to enter directly into the water. In the early 20th century, exposure of male nipples was considered indecent at some beaches. During this period, women's bathing suits had to cover at least the thighs and exposure of more than that could lead to arrests for public lewdness. But after WWII, the arrival of the bikini was quickly accepted with few complaints.[citation needed]

Sport in the modern sense of the word became popular only in the 19th century. Nudity in this context was most common in Germany and the Nordic countries.[citation needed]

In 1924, in the Soviet Union, an informal organization called the "Down with Shame" movement held mass nude marches in an effort to dispel earlier, "bourgeois" morality.[35][36][37] During the following decade, Stalin rose to power and quickly suppressed the radical ideas which had circulated in the early years of the Soviet Union. Nudism and pornography were prohibited, and Soviet society would remain rigidly conservative for the rest of the USSR's existence. After the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, a much more liberated social climate prevailed in Russia and naturist clubs and beaches reappeared.[citation needed]

The geographically-isolated Scandinavian countries were less affected by Victorian social taboos and continued with their sauna culture. Nude swimming in rivers or lakes was a very popular tradition. In the summer, there would be wooden bathhouses, often of considerable size accommodating numerous swimmers, built partly over the water; hoardings prevented the bathers from being seen from outside. Originally the bathhouses were for men only; today there are usually separate sections for men and women. For the Olympic Games in Stockholm in 1912, the official poster was created by a distinguished artist. It depicted several naked male athletes (their genitals obscured) and was for that reason considered too daring for distribution in certain countries. Posters for the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, the 1924 Olympics in Paris, and the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki also featured nude male figures, evoking the classical origins of the games. The poster for the 1948 London Olympics featured the Discobolus, a nude sculpture of a discus thrower.[citation needed]

In the early years of the 20th century, a nudist movement began to develop in Germany which was connected to a renewed interest in classical Greek ideas of the human body. So-called FKK (Freikörper Kultur) clubs sprung up during this period and started moving the German public away from much of the Victorian modesty codes they had inherited. During the 1930s, the Nazi leadership either banned naturist organizations or placed them under the control of the party, and opinion on them seems to have been divided. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels considered nudity decadent while Heinrich Himmler and the SS endorsed it.[citation needed]

After WWII, communist East Germany became famous for its nude beaches and widespread FKK culture, a rare freedom allowed in a regimented society. By comparison, naturism was not as popular in West Germany, one reason being that the churches had more influence than the secularized DDR. Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, FKK declined in popularity due to an influx of more prudish West Germans to the East as well as increased immigration of Turks and other socially-conservative Muslims.[citation needed]

During the 1960s-70s, feminist groups in France and Italy lobbied for and obtained the legalization of topless beaches despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. Spain would eventually permit toplessness on its beaches, but only after the death of ultra-conservative Catholic dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. While public nudity is not a major taboo in continental Europe, Britain and the United States tend to view it less favorably and naturist clubs are not be family-oriented as in Germany and elsewhere, with nude beaches being often seen as meetup locations for homosexual men.[citation needed]

An occasional—often illegal—naked sideshow is when a member of the public uses a sports venue to perform as a streaker. Streaking became more popular in the 1970s. It was not until the 1990s (and after) that nudity became expected at major public events, such as Bay to Breakers and the World Naked Bike Ride.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Arney, Kat, "Head lice key to clothing history", BBC News, 29 September 2003 [1]
  2. ^ Sneed, Joe, "LISS.398A TECHNOLOGY, ENVIRONMENT and HUMAN ADAPTATION: PART I EARLY PEOPLES in the NEW WORLD", Colorado School of Mines, retrieved 1 December 2007 [2]
  3. ^ Manuelian, Peter Der (1998). Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs. Bonner Straße, Cologne Germany: Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH. ISBN 3-89508-913-3, pp. 406–7
  4. ^ Isaiah 20:4
  5. ^ Plutarch's lives, the Life of Lycurgus.
  6. ^ Polybius, Histories II.28
  7. ^ Plato, Symposium; 182c
  8. ^ Thomas Habinek, "The Invention of Sexuality in the World-City of Rome," in The Roman Cultural Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 39.
  9. ^ Flagiti principium est nudare inter civis corpora: Ennius, as quoted by Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 4.33.70; Craig Williams, Roman Homosexuality (Oxford University Press, 1999, 2010), pp. 64 and 292, note 12; John G. Younger, Sex in the Ancient World from A to Z (Routledge, 2005), p. 134; Simon Goldhill, introduction to Being Greek under Rome: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic and the Development of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 2. Originally, flagitium meant a public shaming, and later more generally a disgrace; Fritz Graf, "Satire in a Ritual Context," in The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 195–197.
  10. ^ Julia Heskel, "Cicero as Evidence for Attitudes to Dress in the Late Republic," in The World of Roman Costume (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), p. 138; Larissa Bonfante, "Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art," in American Journal of Archaeology 93.4 (1989), p. 563.
  11. ^ Alastair J. L. Blanshard, Sex: Vice and Love from Antiquity to Modernity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 24; Kyle Harper, Slavery in the Late Roman Mediterranean, AD 275–425 (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 293–294.
  12. ^ Williams, Roman Homosexuality, pp. 69–70.
  13. ^ Juvenal, Satires 2 and 8; Michael Carter, "(Un)Dressed to Kill: Viewing the Retiarius," in Roman Dress and the Fabrics of Roman Culture (University of Toronto Press, 2008), pp. 120–121.
  14. ^ Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (University of Michigan Press, 1988), p. 5ff.
  15. ^ Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (University of Michigan Press, 1988), pp. 239–240, 249–250 et passim.
  16. ^ Nigel Crowther, "Nudity and Morality: Athletics in Italy," Classical Journal 76.2 (1980), pp. 119–121.
  17. ^ Amy Richlin, "Pliny's Brassiere," in Roman Sexualities (Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 215.
  18. ^ David Fredrick, The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 156; Williams, Roman Homosexuality, p. 18.
  19. ^ Beth Cohen, "Divesting the Female Breast of Clothes in Classical Sculpture," in Naked Truths: Women, Sexuality, and Gender in Classical Art and Archaeology (Routledge, 1997), p. 66; Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 725; Bonfante, "Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art," passim.
  20. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 4.50; Allison R. Sharrock, "Looking at Looking: Can You Resist a Reading?" in The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 275.
  21. ^ John R. Clarke, "Look Who's Laughing at Sex: Men and Women Viewers in the Apodyterium of the Suburban Baths at Pompeii," in The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power, and the Body (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 160.
  22. ^ Alastair J. L. Blanshard, Sex: Vice and Love from Antiquity to Modernity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p. 24; Kyle Harper, Slavery in the Late Roman Mediterranean, AD 275–425 (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 293–294.
  23. ^ Varro, De lingua latina 6.8, citing a fragment from the Latin tragedian Accius on Actaeon that plays with the verb video, videre, visum, "see," and its presumed connection to vis (ablative vi, "by force") and violare, "to violate": "He who saw what should not be seen violated that with his eyes" (Cum illud oculis violavit is, qui invidit invidendum); David Frederic, "Invisible Rome," in The Roman Gaze, pp. 1–2. Ancient etymology was not a matter of scientific linguistics, but of associative interpretation based on similarity of sound and implications of theology and philosophy; see Davide Del Bello, Forgotten Paths: Etymology and the Allegorical Mindset (Catholic University of America Press, 2007).
  24. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato 20.5; Williams, Roman Homosexuality, pp. 69–70; Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, p. 6.
  25. ^ Garrett G. Fagan, Bathing in Public in the Roman World (University of Michigan Press, 1999, 2002), pp. 26–27.
  26. ^ Causa decoris: Celsus, De medicina 7.25.1A, discussed by Crowther, "Nudity and Morality: Athletics in Italy," p. 122; and Peter Schäfer, The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World (Routledge, 1983, 2003), p. 151, noting that some had themselves circumcised again later.
  27. ^ Nudity throughout history at activenaturists.net
  28. ^ active naturists: nudity throughout history
  29. ^ active naturists: nudity in sports throughout history.
  30. ^ Soul capoeira: history
  31. ^ active naturists: nudity in sports throughout history
  32. ^ active naturists: nudity in sports throughout history
  33. ^ Ibn Battuta - The Great Traveller
  34. ^ Dr. Jacobus X : Untrodden Fields of Anthropology. Falstaff Press, NY, 1937. vol. 2, p. 183 (Accessible online: here)
  35. ^ Siegelbaum, Lewis H. Soviet state and society between revolutions, 1918-1929. ISBN 978-0-521-36987-9.
  36. ^ Hamburg, Gary. Rise and Fall of Soviet Communism. The Teaching Company. ISBN 978-0-10-225024-4.
  37. ^ Russia: Down With Shame, Time Magazine, 22 September 1924.

Sources and references[edit]

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