Look like a Greek statue: Why we aspire to Ancient beauty

13 August 2013

Alastair Blanshard
Dr Alastair Blanshard: "Yes, the Greeks gave us democracy, but they also gave us waxing salons, tanning booths and anorexia."

Why do we desire to look like Greek statues? Where do our modern notions of beauty stem? And what are the dangerous consequences arising from our pursuit of bodily perfection?

These questions and more will be answered by Dr Alastair Blanshard this Thursday in his lecture 'Beauty and the Greek', part of the Nicholson Museum's The Glory of Greece evening series.

In an age where multi-billion dollar beauty and plastic surgery industries thrive on selling aspirational images of the perfect body, Dr Blanshard will take a look back to where this quest for beauty originated.

Tracing a trajectory from ancient gymnasiums to modern bodybuilder regimes, the lecture will decode our modern obsession with physical perfection.

"Yes, the Greeks gave us democracy, but they also gave us waxing salons, tanning booths and anorexia," said Dr Blanshard. "Certainly things like hair removal and the idea of the hairless body absolutely stems from Greece."

Despite the proliferation of bulky figures gracing the covers of men's magazines, few ancient Grecians themselves could realistically hope to embody such ideals, Dr Blanshard will argue.

"For the Greeks, they always had a sense that such bodies were always beyond their reach," he said. "They knew that it's almost impossible to look like that.

"Now through just our sheer determination, in the 21st century you can look like a Greek statue, but you have to do it through the most extraordinary regimes. You have to eat so lean but with such high protein that actually it's a diet that you could never replicate in the ancient world."

Dr Blanshard will suggest this desire for the perfect body has spurred such modern malaise as 'bigorexia' or the 'Adonis complex', with young men in particular paying a hefty physical and mental price in their attempts to build a Grecian body through steroid supplement use.

Ironically, the idealised images of beauty so revered in contemporary Western culture were both a source of admiration and fear for the Ancient Greeks, according to Dr Blanshard.

"Every parent wanted to have an attractive child but they didn't want to have a child that is so attractive that the gods notice it," he said. "If you're too beautiful the gods notice you and disaster happens."

Dr Alastair Blanshard is a senior lecturer in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney. He is author of such books as Sex: Vice and Love from Antiquity to Modernity, Hercules: A Heroic Life and Classics on Screen: Ancient Greece and Rome on Film, co-authored with Kim Shahabudin.

Event details

What: 'Beauty and the Greek', part of the Nicholson Museum's The Glory of Greece lecture series

When: 6-8.00pm, Thursday 15 August, 2013

Where: Nicholson Museum, The Quadrangle, University of Sydney

Cost: $32 ($25 for Friends of the Nicholson Museum)

Registration: 9351 2812 or

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Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961; 0405 208 616

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