Who’s your idea of the perfect man?
Ryan Reynolds? Ryan Gosling? Cristiano Ronaldo?
According to the ancient Greeks it’s...Discobolus, or ‘discus thrower’. You can judge for yourselves, as his statue is being returned to Britain, after four years away, to be displayed in the British Museum in time for the Olympics.
The original statue was sculpted in bronze by Myron of Athens around 450 BCE. This has been lost but several Roman copies were made of it. Myron studied at the school of Argos, which was renowned for the skill of its sculptors. Polyclitus and Phidias attended at the same time and between them they competed to create the most perfect man.
Polyclitus is known for his sculpture Doryphoros, or ‘spear bearer.’ The nude male is muscular, meticulously proportioned, and very precise in its details. It was used as a model by future generations and its rules followed like a law.
Phidias used his skills to portray the gods and scenes from mythological stories in a beautiful harmony of movement. These scenes were carefully selected to reflect the glory of Athens and the power that the people held at that time. In this way, you could think of him as a very early propagandist.
Myron’s Discobolus tries to capture the perfect athlete by presenting a perfectly proportioned body which has no set of muscles overdeveloped.
It isn’t surprising then, that a version of this statue was bought for $327,000 by the Nazis for the Olympics in 1938, as a representation of the Nazi ideal – the perfect master race.
Ten years later the statue was used in posters to advertise the 1948 Olympic Games in London. This time, however, it represented democracy, which is associated with Ancient Greece. Today, at the British Museum, the statue will be displayed alongside a new version by Chinese sculptor Sui Jianguo. This, provocatively, portrays the discus thrower in the same pose as the ancient Greek athlete but wearing a Maoist tunic.