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By Harry Mount for the Daily Mail. Perhaps the most famous Greek sculpture of all, Discobolos, the discus-thrower, shows how athletes competed in the nude. About two-and-a-half thousand years ago, a cultural miracle took place in ancient Greece. Democracy was born in Athens, the first great tragedies and comedies were written — and statues were carved that were more astonishingly lifelike than ever before. Warriors die on the Trojan battlefield in the buff.

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Heroic nudity - Wikipedia

Figures with no clothes are peculiarly common in the art of the Western world. This situation might seem perfectly natural when one considers how frequent the state of undress is in every human life, from birth to the bath to the boudoir. In art, however, naked figures relate very little to these humble conditions and instead reflect a very complex set of formal ideals, philosophical concerns, and cultural traditions. Though meaningful throughout the sweep of Western art, the nude was a particular focus of artistic innovation in the Renaissance and later academic traditions of the seventeenth century and after. The nude first became significant in the art of ancient Greece, where athletic competitions at religious festivals celebrated the human body, particularly the male, in an unparalleled way. The athletes in these contests competed in the nude, and the Greeks considered them embodiments of all that was best in humanity.

Heroic nudity

Male nudes are the norm in Greek art , even though historians have stated that ancient Greeks kept their clothes on for the most part. New research suggests that art might have been imitating life more closely than previously thought. Nudity was a costume used by artists to depict various roles of men, ranging from heroicism and status to defeat.
Heroic nudity or ideal nudity is a concept in classical scholarship to describe the un-realist use of nudity in classical sculpture to show figures who may be heroes , deities, or semi-divine beings. This convention began in Archaic and Classical Greece and continued in Hellenistic and Roman sculpture. The existence or place of the convention is the subject of scholarly argument. In ancient Greek art warriors on reliefs and painted vases were often shown as nude in combat, which was not in fact the Greek custom, and in other contexts.