from a sense of shame; 4) for aesthetic reasons, as decoration, enjoyment, beauty, and to attract the reverse

sex; 5) for apotropaic reasons, to turn away the effects
of magic, sorcery, the evil eye, and hostile spirits. We
shall see that one or more of these considerations can
Additionally explain what nudity once meant for the Greeks-and how My wife and I and 6 other couples that are good buddies have been going to the changed.2
Though it doesn’t function as a protection against the
weather (1), nakedness, like clothing or armor, was
used to recognize social groups (2), in life and in art.
Clothing, actually, differentiates human society, civilized
people, from animals and wild beasts, which are
Nude. Individuals wear clothing, animals don’t. In a
clothed society, nevertheless, nakedness is special, and can
be used as a “costume.” As it developed, Greek nudity
came to mark a contrast between Greek and nonGreek, and also between women and men. The latter
distinction is linked with the most fundamental connotation of nakedness, the sense of shame, vulnerability and
exposure it arouses in person (3), and the associated sense
of shock provoked by its sight. Clothes was made to
avoid such powerful emotions by covering the body, notably the male genitals, the phallus, and female genitals and breast.
public is pretty worldwide.3 There originally existed in

I was newly married and living on the east coast not too far from the shores. , as elsewhere, a garment designed
to hide the wearer’s sex organ, a loin cloth, perizoma or
diazoma, as the Greeks usually called it. The beauty of
the nude body (4) has frequently been exalted. Its sensual and
aesthetic attractiveness, as Kenneth Clark has shown, has
caused an alternate word to be used: this facet of nakedness is known as “nudity.”4
In the ancient Near East Ishtar,5 and in the West
naked. The attractiveness and strength of the nude male
body were also commended, and heroes, including the Master of Animals, were signified naked, or wearing
only a belt.7 It was the Greeks who brought into our
culture the ideal of male nudity as the highest kind of
beauty. Greek art and athletics exalted the beauty of
the youthful male sportsman, whose figure provided the
model for the hero or youthful god. The image of the
nude young male, the kouros statue of early Greek art
(Comparing with the clothed female, the kore), embodied the arete or magnificence of an aristocratic youth, who
was kaloskagathos, “beautiful and noble.”8
On account of the powerful emotions of shame, shock,
lust, admiration, irreverence, pity, and disgust aroused
by the sight of the naked human body, the most frequent associations are with taboo, magic, and ritual
(5). When the sexual organ was uncovered, its power
was unleashed. Apotropaic and bewitching nudity, calling for the exposure of male genitals and female
enduring force of this elaborate picture. As a taboo, it
can protect against the evil eye. Like the Gorgon’s
gaze, it can paralyze or protect.
exposure of a woman’s breast or genitals, for example,
Additionally function as strong magic.9 In art and in life,

cultures throughout history, and has survived into our
own times. Phallic or “priapic” figurines and amulets,
In addition to obscene gestures, still serve as protection
against the evil eye in many parts of the world. When
Clothing is regular, exhibitionist actions of nakedness frequently
have a charming meaning. In the realm of magic, nudity
wards off a spell or other dangerous form of magic, compels love, and gives strength to one’s own practice of
witchcraft and conjuring.”1 Since, then, in a clothed
society nudity was exceptional, grievous, dangerous, and
Strong,”1 entire nakedness was prevented in regular life. It was saved for particular scenarios or specific
Rite services.
Language, too, preserved traces of this magic power
of nakedness. The word, like the fact, had to be
avoided, so that its magic power could be preserved.

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linguistic taboo so caused the kind of the word for
“Nude” to transform, in all the Indoeuropean languages.
Though gymnos, nudus, nackt, etc. were all initially
related to each other-so linguists insure us-they
were all transformed in varied and surprising ways,
so that their first likeness is almost unrecognizable.12 For most parts of the body, there’s what
Devoto called a “succinct” vocabulary:13 the words for
“heart,” “eye,” “foot,” “knee,” “nose,” “tooth,” “eyebrow” are basically the same in all the Indoeuropean

languages. Differences can be accounted for, even clarified, by linguistic “rules.” But words for “nude,”
In addition to the names of certain parts of the bodyfinger, tongue, hand, and hair-are different in the
different languages. How can this be explained? Indoeuropeans obviously had fingers, tongues, hands, hair,
and nakedness; and they must have had names for

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