kouroi

You’ve probably seen images of Greek kouroi before such as the Strangford Apollo in the British Museum; they are depictions of young, Greek men stood with one leg and arm slightly in front of the other, with a slight or ‘archaic smile’ on their faces. They were influenced by Egyptian standing statues, however the most noticeable difference is how the male Egyptian standing statues were clothed, whereas with the kouroi, they are always naked. The female version, the kore, were clothed however. 

What this reveals about sexuality of the time is the archaic/classical concept of the ‘beautiful boy’. This was a belief that a beautiful boy was one who took care of his physical appearance, such as at the gymnasium, which is depicted in the statues with their well-worked physiques. But beauty was not just in appearance, but in mind also; older men would chase the younger boys for sexual satisfaction and in return they would pass on their knowledge or wisdom. Socrates and Alcibiades are an example of this. What we see is not the young boys as ‘feminised’ but simply a different type of masculinity. 

They were used as grave markers to symbolise the deceased in their prime, as a sort of nostalgic civilisation, which showed their obsession with beauty but not necessarily the individual’s elite lifestyle. 

Greek kouroi

You’ve probably seen images of Greek kouroi before such as the Strangford Apollo in the British Museum; they are depictions of young, Greek men stood with one leg and arm slightly in front of the other, with a slight or ‘archaic smile’ on their faces. They were influenced by Egyptian standing statues, however the most noticeable difference is how the male Egyptian standing statues were clothed, whereas with the kouroi, they are always naked. The female version, the kore, were clothed however. 

What this reveals about sexuality of the time is the archaic/classical concept of the 'beautiful boy’. This was a belief that a beautiful boy was one who took care of his physical appearance, such as at the gymnasium, which is depicted in the statues with their well-worked physiques. But beauty was not just in appearance, but in mind also; older men would chase the younger boys for sexual satisfaction and in return they would pass on their knowledge or wisdom. Socrates and Alcibiades are an example of this. What we see is not the young boys as 'feminised’ but simply a different type of masculinity. 

They were used as grave markers to symbolise the deceased in their prime, as a sort of nostalgic civilisation, which showed their obsession with beauty but not necessarily the individual’s elite lifestyle. 

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The King and The Youth: Pharaoh Menkaure, the Kouroi and the Egyptians Influence on The Greeks

     Menkaure was pharaoh that ruled in the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. He is most remembered for his contribution of the construction of ‘The Pyramid of Menkaure’ or 'The Pyramid of Mycerinus’, the smallest and third pyramid on the Giza Plateau in Cairo, Egypt.

     One of Menkaure’s most famous 'portrait’ of himself as pharaoh is the diorite statue of him and his wife, possibly Khamerernebty I, although there is debate since Menkaure had two different wives during his reign as pharaoh. Both standing side by side, Menkaure illustrates a straight and stiff posture, arms down to his sides, hands molded into fists, with his left leg striding forward. His facial features and body are created almost to illustrate 'ideal beauty’ during the time. Youthful face, slender body, and strong stance indicate not only his power over the Kingdom of Egypt but also the connection of him to the gods in his young face, almost never aging, as the gods were depicted. His queen stands by him, with her right arm wrapped around to his waist, demonstrating a definite bond between the two. Her posture is the same as her husbands, straight with her leg put forward. This rigid 'portrait’ of the pharaoh had been the same up until the reign of Akhenaten in the Eighteenth Dynasty. 

     While in Ancient Egypt the portrayal of the pharaohs changed, the statue of Menkaure and Khamerernebty I’s straight, stiff, and idealized characteristics were used in later art by the Greeks. Kouros during the Archaic Period in Greece were Greek youthful males, between the ages of 13 to 15, who were seen to the Greeks as the ideal, perfect representation of beauty. The kouroi (plural for kouros) statues had two main functions: to represent the god Apollo and to be as grave markers to commemorate the deceased males, whether from the games or from battle. A famous grave marker is the Kroisos Kouroi, originally found in Attica attributed to the grave of a male youth named Kroisos. What is fascinating is that the Kouroi’s appearance in stance, facial features, and form are practically identical to Menkaure’s statue that was created about 2,000 years prior to the popularization and creation of the Kouroi’s. Pictured side by side, Kroisos has the same arms to his side, fists clenched, leg striding forward, and looking straight forward. Besides the trademark 'Archaic smile’ on the Greek youth’s face, his face is youthful, like Menkaure’s, and his body is toned and slender like the Pharaohs. 

     Although there are more examples that can trace the parallels of Egyptian influence on Greek art, these two comparisons, Menkaure and His Queen and the Kroisos Kouroi, equal a wonderful example of how Ancient Egyptian art molded a very popular and important aspect of Archaic Greek art. The mixture of Greek art and Egyptian art elements in one piece, as seen in the kouroi is just one of the many reasons why I love ancient art, and Egyptian art in particular: the major impact the Ancient Egyptians had on other cultures is extraordinary to me. 

You can see the Kroisos Kouroi at The Getty Villa in Malibu, California and Menkaure and His Queen at The Boston Museum of Fine Arts.