Throughout the years there have been numerous interpretations of the human figure and often these interpretations reflected a culture’s standards and values. These ideas about beauty and human idealization often changed ( all still change ) overtime with social conditions and gender roles. The standards of beauty can often be arbitrary and can vary substantial both from one culture to the next. Many of history’s representations of the ideal human that date back to the ancient world have contributed to modern beauty standards. Some of the values and beliefs back then are very prominent in western media. Some perfect examples would be the Statues of Votive Figures from the Square Temple at Eshnunna ( a Sumerian statue from c.2700 BCE that is made with Gypsum inlaid with shell and black limestone) and Doryphoros ( a bronze Greek statue from 450-440 BCE).
Mesopotamia and its cultures have left a number of important legacies on Western civilization. It was the cradle of civilization and the rise of ideal nature. One of the major cultures in the Fertile Crescent region was that of the Sumerians. This Early-dynastic society was revolved mainly around religion which can be reflected through the Statues of Votive Figures from the Square Temple at Eshnunna. The stylized figures were portrayed symmetrically with wide open eyes that look upward to allow continuous contact with their celestial deity. Their hands were also folded in a gesture of attentiveness and prayer. Men were bare-chested however were wearing kilts and belts which introduces masculinity as well as a sense of humility and meekness. It is important to note that whereas the men were shown with less clothing on, the women were conserved and wore tufted/fringed drapery and headdresses ( this gender role can also be seen in the Archaic Greek kouros and kore statues) . Their stocky body type shows strength which was important since the statue needed to endure the constant worship. Beards during the time were very popular and portrayed more rigidly with ripple patterns which suggest that it was important to their identity. The males and females were portrayed modestly with the sole purpose to worship the Sumerian gods. It is clearly seen that the Sumerians appreciated faith and devotion to higher figures more than the physical structure/appeal and the ideal proportion of their bodies.
Mesopotamia and Greece were pivotal meeting areas between the west and east. Due to the cultural interaction, it is no surprise that they shared a few similarities. They do however, also share vastly different characteristics in terms of their political structure, polytheistic religions, and their focuses on different topics. While the Sumerians solely focused on religion and maintaining a relationship with their deities, the Greeks took a more humanistic approach and started focusing on the beauty of the human form and essence as they were transitioning toward realism ( to the extent that they started interpreting their gods in a human form). To the Greeks, physical beauty was seen as a literal divine.
The Greek beauty standards are often seen in the western world and the media today. Unlike the Sumerians who believed that nudity was debasement, a lot of the men portrayed in Greek art were often nude. The Greeks gave rise to the desire to have the perfect body through its heavy musculature. For example, Doryphoros ( also known as the Spear Bearer ) by Polykleitos ( dating to 450-440 BCE ) is an example of an ideal young Greek man in the Classical period. The canon of proportion of the human figure that Polykleitos introduced became a general rule for beauty and form. The naturalistic abdominals, broad shoulders, and thick torso reveal that the Greek interpretation of masculinity was through health and athleticism. This strong physical form also suggest the dominance of males during the time. This contrast with Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles which is the first monumental nude statue of a women in Greek history. This statue portrays more femininity and has a shy sensuality about it as the females hand covers her modesty (aidos). It is seen as an alternative idea to male heroic nudity. For both the Sumerian and Greek statues, you begin to notice a patriarchal pattern and a sense of male authority that evidently reveals their social and political beliefs. Some of these beliefs have even carried on to the modern era.
The way one culture interprets the ideal person can correlate and vastly contrast with other cultures as seen with the Sumerians and the Greeks. Influences such as the societal environment or religious dominance can make a worlds difference between customs and beliefs. However, if one thing’s for sure, standards and principles always keep changing as a society evolves and become exposed to different factors (such as westernization and technology which can cause acculturation). What may have been popular in the early civilizations can be outdated as time progresses. However the past does influence the future as seen with the 21st century and the Greeks who both strive to be the nonpareil. The surgeries and procedures that people undergo in order to achieve a desired appearance derives from centuries ago. As some people put it, ” The suffering for beauty has ancient roots” (Diane Mepes)