The Problem with Dexileos: Heroic and Other Nudities in Greek Art

Dexileos stele and inscription.
Dexileos stele and inscription.

A study of the well-known Dexileos stele, set above a cenotaph or heroon built for a young horseman killed in the Corinthian War in 394/3 B.C.E., leads to an examination of the meaning and function of nudity in archaic and classical Greek art. Dexileos' clothing and his fallen enemyís nakedness defy traditional expectations and so undermine the notion of "heroic nudity," a familiar but flawed explanation for the naked state of ideal males in Greek art. Rather than dispense with the concept of heroic nudity completely, we should recognize that it is just one among a number of different nudities in Greek art with a number of different roles, some of them contradictory. These include a nudity of differentiation, a nudity of youth, "democratic nudity," a nudity of status or class, and a nudity of vulnerability and defeat (pathetic nudity). As in the art of other ancient cultures, nudity is a costume whose significance is determined by context and subject rather than by abstract principle.

Iconography    Sculpture    Mortuary   

DOI: 10.3764/aja.111.1.35