As everyone knows, both art and standards of beauty have changed over the years. The ancient Greek and Romans are rightly famous for their statues, many of which portray their vision of the ideal man. In many ways, their vision of the ideal man is similar to ours: young, muscular and athletic. But they differ from the modern perspective of the ideal man in one important and striking way: The statues have small penises. That is partly because the men are not depicted with erections, but it also reflects the attitude of the artists.
In her blog, “How to Talk About Art History,” Ellen Oredesson explained that the ancient Greek and Romans believed that small penises were better and more attractive than big ones. While modern people believe a large penis conveys manliness, the ancient Greeks viewed it as a sign of lust and foolishness. If a Greek artist did depict a male with a large phallus, the male in question was often a brutish satyr or Priapus, a minor Olympian god with a permanent erection who behaved so obnoxiously that he was eventually kicked off Mt. Olympus by the other gods. Males with large, erect penises were seen as ugly, lustful and foolish.
By contrast, small genitalia marked a man as rational and intelligent. A small penis indicated the subject was in control of himself and was not a slave of his own lusts. The ancient Greeks saw the ideal man as one who was authoritative, logical and intelligent.
Aristophanes, the Greek playwright, described this attitude in one of his plays, “Clouds”:
“If you do these things I tell you, and bend your efforts to them, you will always have a shining breast, a bright skin, big shoulders, a minute tongue, a big rump and a small prick. But if you follow the practices of today, for a start you’ll have a pale skin, small shoulders, a skinny chest, a big tongue, a small rump, a big prick and a long-winded decree.” (Lines 1010 – 1019)
Roman artists were heavily influenced by the ancient Greeks, as were the much later Renaissance artists. Consequently, they also depicted idealized men as having small genitals.
The ancient Greeks also considered a phallus with an intact foreskin more attractive than one without. They viewed circumcision as a sign of barbarism. They also associated it with slaves. To them, a circumcised penis was therefore extremely unattractive, especially if it was also large and erect.