Reactions to the beautiful body in Classical Athens : a tri-genre approach
Economist Daniel Hamermesh’s groundbreaking Beauty Pays, building upon his earlier research, opens with the sentence: “Modern man is obsessed with beauty. ”His book analyses how beautiful individuals benefit (mainly financially) from their appearances, a phenomenon he had previously termed the ‘beauty premium’. Since his first article on the topic, many disciplines have followed suit, examining the beauty premium within their respective contexts of politics, law, and other social sciences. Contrary to the beauty premium is the concept of a beauty penalty, whereby the beautiful individual is harmed rather than benefited from his/her looks. Hamermesh’s findings are by no means limited to the modern world and his opening sentence could be adapted to read: “Man is, and always has been, obsessed with beauty.” In this thesis, I argue that beauty premiums and penalties can similarly be seen in operation in Classical Athens. I do so by identifying and analysing reactions to the beautiful human body via a cross-section of three popular literary genres: old comedy, the writings of Xenophon and attic oratory. These genres show that reactions to beauty in Classical Athens were pervasive and yet variegated. Each section begins with a review of what aspects of the male and female body were considered beautiful within the respective genre. Then, I analyse the range of diverse premiums (as well as penalties) granted to beautiful individuals. Beauty, and reactions to beauty, may be a matter of individual preference, but the essential point is that it causes reactions. Each genre nuances these reactions in its own way. In comedy, beautiful characters, who have a range of personalities, are given both penalties and premiums on account of their appearance. Reactions to such beauty are, at times, mocked and, at other times, beautiful individuals are treated as prizes to be doled out to the main characters. Xenophon, on the other hand, urges beautiful individuals and their pursuers alike to ponder beauty and rethink granting undeserved premiums. Oratory unites both of these findings in the course of its subtle arguments presented to a jury. Overall this thesis draws attention to the multifaceted expectations of beauty, and the common societal reactions recorded in this cross-section of literature. It is my hope that this analysis will be a useful point of contrast to classicists and all those studying the beauty premium in societies both modern and ancient.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2019-03-14
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 14th March 2019.
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