By Adrian Vrettos
I LOVE the ancient Greek female form – in whatever modern shape it now appears in around the streets of Athens. It offers a lengthy visual delight for modern-ancient Greek males, including myself; especially in spring.
Most of my friends prefer long, thin, almost boyish-looking women such as can also be viewed in showcases at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Other friends prefer large-breasted, hippy women with narrow waists that can be seen, among other places, at the museum in Knossos, where they are also usually armed with a couple of snakes. Some friends have a preference for the buxom, fleshy, well-rounded female form such as those found draped in marble cloaks at the National Archaeological Museum.
Inspired by my scientific training, I decided to classify these shapes. After hours of painstaking investigation at the Benaki Museum and The Clumsies bar, I have drawn up a new classification system: it’s called Modelism. And it comes with categories such as Pre-Modelism, Late Pre-Modelism, and Post-Modelism.
Somewhat befuddled? Allow me: since in Greek pre-history there was no Internet, high-circulating magazines or TV, our forebear artisans moulded figurines or carved statues and stuck them up in public places to symbolise their ideal/idol female form instead. This I term as Pre-Modelism, since it precedes the present day model, which is stuck up in public places and to which we are all subjected to every day.
The Pre-Modelistic Period, dating at around 3000 BC, is thought to be a matriarchal society in which women held the authority. Women were depicted as the fertile givers of life, like a ripe fruit full of seeds. Clay figurines of powerful goddesses such as Demeter and Cybele, found all over Greece and Asia Minor, were either naked or semi-naked, and sitting on thrones. Cybele has lions at her side.
Following this came the Minoans, at circa 2000 BC, who again expressed a celebration of female form and power. Their clay forms and images were depicted on walls wearing the fashion of the day; octopus-themed attires, where tentacles reaching upwards to enfold the breasts. This represented a strong link with the energy of the sea, often regarded as a strong feminine element, and given the female gender in many languages including Greek (i thalassa).
Later on, in the Late Pre-Modelistic period (also known as Post Pre-Modelism or Statuism) ancient Greece moved into a patriarchal society. Women started to lose their status along with their shapely characteristics as can be seen in the Cyladic era at about 6.42 a.m. March 12, 1653 BC, give or take a couple of hundred years. The female models began to change dramatically into a stylised geometric form with straight masculine lines rather than the curves and waves of the feminine. At the Cycladic Museum , you can see the streamlined figures, almost asexual, with no facial features except for a triangular nose.
Some suggest this could portend a subtle shift of power.
By classical Greek times, women had lost the game entirely because the most common figures of beauty were of 15-18 year old males. Women were still around to a lesser degree and their voluptuous beauty and sexuality were still inexclusively celebrated.
The Romans upheld the fashion set by the classical Greeks. But, by the time we get to the Byzantine era from the 3rd to the 15th centuary A.D. women had completely lost their sexuality and shape since they were covered with layers of clothing to hide their “sinful” bodies. And the Renaissance, well the Renaissance never really hit Greece , so we’re leaving those centuries out of this theory.
So back to our modern Grecian maidens in the present Modelism period or Neo-Modelism. This is characterised by the Cycladic female form colliding and merging with the much-favoured classical Greek male, kouroi, of 500 BC, ie thin, angular women who very often look like… young men.
For some odd reason, the fertile womanly shapes that still abound in Athens (Pre-Modelism) have taken a back seat in fashion to Neo-Modelism. My theory is that homosexuality is not as acceptable in modern Greece as it was in ancient Greece , so the male-driven society has deputised women in place of their young warrior males. Is this equality or manipulation?
Sound the alarm!
Do you think that ancient Athenian women overstuffed themselves to conform with the model of Artemis or Athena? Luckily there are modern ancient Greek women who are only lightly touched by today’s fashion and who celebrate their womanhood with acceptance and joy and sexuality. This I call Post-Modelism, and it is what I like to embrace.