something unique. No longer does it mean susceptibility; it means, on the contrary, the readiness to stand up
and fight even though one knew one was vulnerable. It
has to do with military valor which demands risking
one’s life, being totally exposed. The girls were kept
covered because it meant they were protected, not exposed to risk. The connection of this manly nudity to
the nudity of the gods is, in addition, crucial: the gods could be
Bare because they relied on themselves.
Authors of the Classical period eventually looked
back at the custom and offered rationalizing explanations for an institution whose significance had altered
from religious and rite to civic.82 The Greeks did

tifying signs of the athlete. A storyline features the sloth of the
people of Sybaris,who saw the athletesof Krotondiggingup
the palaestra and wonderedwhy they did not hire workers
to (Poliakoff[supran. 54] 12-13,
80 Aeschin. In . 138; mentioned in M. Golden,
Homosexuality,”Phoenix 38 (1984) 319, who thinks slaves
were actually banned from entering the palaestra. For a
similar law in Crete, view Arist. Pol. 11.19: Cretans give

Gymnasticsand war are mentionedtogether also as something normallyforeignto girls:supra, text and n. 85.
81 For transformationof earlier institutionsand values, see
Similar transformation,
from spiritual to civil, took place, e.g., in the theater, or in
the polis, with the use of the lot.

not totally understandthe origin or the development
Yet they had to clarify it, as a peculiarity that exemplified in a visible manner and confirmed in activity the difference between themselves
and everyone else, a difference of which they were
Intensely aware. We’ve seen that they attributedthe
origin of fit nudity to the 15th Olympiad, in the
The first
But the custom spread gradually, and after, into
everydaylife. Such a gradualdevelopmentcan describe
the statement of Thucydides (1.6)-echoed after by
Plato (Resp. 5.452a-e)-that athletic nudity had become universal in Greece “shortlybefore his time.”
These writers were referringto the normalizationof
nudity in real life, to its civic worth,not to its
First appearancein religious ritual and artwork.
Thucydides saw the custom of exercising in the

phantly been supported at Athens shortly before his
time, after the Persian Wars. The introduction of fit nudity into the regular life of the gymnasium
freer, easier, more democratic, according to Thucydides.
himself in preparation for military service. A Greek soldier must be in shape: he must be thin and muscular,
not portly and prosperous.
except the
Greeks-who declared their status and riches by
wearing lavish garments that gave an impression
of elegance and authority.”83
While Thucydides clarifies Greek nudity in the
Circumstance of democracy, Plato describes it as an effect of
the logical, rational manner of thinking of which the
Greeks were so proud.84 In a passage in which he obviously has the Spartan model in mind, Plato imagines
the scenario that would appear if women were to have
If, then, we use the women for the same things as the
men, they must also be educated the same things. Now
music and gymnasticwere givento the men. These two
arts, and what has to do with war, must be assignedto
Manners. Possibly,comparedto what is habitual,many of
the matters now being said would look ridiculousif they
were done as is said.
the girls working out nude with the men in the palaestras, not only the young ones, but even the older
ones, too, like the old men in the gymnasium who,
when they are wrinkledand not pleasantto the eye, all
the same love gymnastic.-By Zeus, he said, that
would seem ridiculousin the presentstate of things. Well, since we have started to speak, we must not be
Fearful of all the jokes-of whatever sort-the wits
might make if such a change took place in gymnastic,
in music, and not the least, in the bearingof arms and
But since we have started to talk,

tiated society like that of early Greece attention must be
paid to a wide variety of signs, from myths and philosophic utopias to anecdotes on the physical appearance,