A Cult of Covered Nudes: To Expose or Not to Expose


Summer’s finally here, and as the Ancient Greeks in their infinite wisdom insisted, when it’s hot it’s better to be naked than overdressed. In Greco-Roman art, nudity symbolized divinity, and as man was made in God’s image, his corporeal splendor was the measure of all things. Therefore, in portraying man at his idealized best, Greek and Roman artists always depicted him in the nude.

Nudity also represented one’s physical and mental condition—heroism, strength, and vitality. In Greek society, athletes routinely trained naked in public, although, as far as I know, there were no hurdle events back then. 

Women, however, were deprived of such freedoms for the most part, and had to cover themselves when out in public. (And rightly so, we wouldn’t like to see sweet young things being harassed by the Harveys and Charlies and Matts of that time, would we now?) Nevertheless, Greek artists were no male chauvinist pigs. They often portrayed young females as males, at times even as female semi-nudes, and as goddesses, particularly Artemis and Aphrodite, resplendently naked. 

My direct ancestor, Takis, the great philosopher and contemporary of Plato and Socrates, knew a thing or two about hygiene and how important it was to wash. He didn’t strip as often as Harvey or Charlie or Matt did, but while researching this, I found in our family archives a note from Takis to Plato chastising the latter for being overdressed in the agora. 

 Yes, my ancestors are often credited with creating the original Cult of the Nude, revered by Renaissance artists and deplored by those very repressed Victorians. (The latter were a smelly lot.) During the Romantic period, women did expose their breasts as often as possible, and for a while managed to free themselves from restrictive clothing, until the mid-19th century when Old Etonians and other Victorian public school boys decided Englishmen might start liking women and decreed that all women be imprisoned in whalebone stays and crinolines.

 Having said this, let me confess that although I agree with my ancestor and with what I’ve written so far, I certainly don’t go along with it in practice. My first shock-horror trauma took place early, when someone showed me a naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their album cover. Alas, modern man and woman do not resemble ancient Greeks, but do resemble Lennon and Ono. So I have very reluctantly fallen out with my ancestor’s ideas, and have concluded that the human body is far more aesthetic when clothed. Which does not contradict what I wrote previously: in Ancient Greece and Rome, the good lookers went naked, the ugly were dressed. 

 Then came the sixties (yes, the 1960s) and the cult of ugliness took over and the uglies went without clothes and vice versa. Just try and think when was the last time you saw a truly beautiful girl, or a good looking man, naked on a beach? All I’ve seen in Mykonos is a bunch of old women and men with rolls of fat and an excess of body hair lying on their backs with their legs spread apart. 

In today’s overexposed culture, where we tell total strangers things our parents wouldn’t dare tell their shrinks, where our very souls have been overexposed to therapists and psychoanalysts, we must keep something in reserve for those precious moments when we wish to surprise one another. And another thing: The real reason I have had a falling out with my ancestor (he has tried twice to contact me from Olympus but I have refused his calls)—the reason I object to nudity is because of the pretension and the arrogance of those who strip themselves and parade before us. By experience I have found they are the very people who take themselves seriously as, say, movie and TV stars, or New York Times pundits. 

So, when on your favorite Greek island or on some billionaire crook’s mega yacht this summer, remember the less you show, the more the fat crook will want to see. Keep him guessing and don’t do a Kardashian and strip right away. Except if your backside is like that of that Kardashian woman and you’re on an Arab’s boat, then show it.