Calamos Supports Greece
GreekReporter.comAncient GreeceEuandria: The Ancient Greek Strength and Beauty Contest for Men

Euandria: The Ancient Greek Strength and Beauty Contest for Men

Doryphoros roman copy of ancient Greek statue
Doryphoros statue. Roman copy of the late 1st cent. BC — early 1st cent. CE after a Greek bronze original by Polykleitos of the 5th century. Credit: flickr / Sergey Sosnovskiy cc by 2.0

Male beauty and strength were highly valued by the ancient Greeks, as evidenced by sculptures and other works of art, and were celebrated at a special beauty pageant known as Euandria.

In ancient Greek, the word “euandria” (manliness) referred to the existence of handsome and strong men. As an epithet, “euandros” was attributed to cities and countries that had citizens, usually athletes or warriors, that matched the criteria.

The vast majority of ancient Greek statues depict handsome men with healthy, fit bodies. Young Greek men exercised regularly not only to be in perfect shape but also to be strong enough to defend their city-states in the event of war, and the Euandria competition provided the best opportunity for them to show off their physical abilities to the public.

The Euandria competition was a contest for teenage boys that took place during the Panathenaea and Theseia festivals in Athens and other cities. Beauty and strength were important, and some historians argue it was a celebration of manhood.

Ancient Greek Euandria contest centered around strength than static posing

Euandria contests were also held in Rhodes, Sestos, and Sparta. The ancient Greek competitions centered around strength and entailed more than merely static posing. The participants were required to demonstrate their physical abilities through performance. The euandria, according to the best of existing literature, was organized as a team event and encompassed aspects of beauty, size, and strength.

The resemblance to present day beauty contests is deniable. The main difference between the two is that in Euandria, the contestants had to exhibit not only physical beauty but also the strength and size of their figures.

Although beauty was the main quality evaluated, it was actually more of an athletic competition in nature. The winners were called athletic winners, but the criteria of the competition are not exactly clear. According to Xenophon, size and strength were crucial criteria for winners.

Historians argue that the Euandria games were closer to modern day bodybuilding contests, during which competitors were judged on the symmetry, balance, and definition of their muscular build. This means that serious training and healthy eating habits were expected by participants.

hercules labors gibraltar stamps
Statue of Hercules at rest leaning against his knotty club on which his lion skin is draped. A 216CE Roman copy of a Greek original from the 4th century BCE. Naples National Archaeological Museum [CC BY 2.5 (] Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Panathenaea and Theseia competitions

Panathenaea was the most famous of the Euandria contests, taking place in the center of Athens. It is dated to the first half of the fourth century BC and was a competition for the ten tribes of Athens.

Only native Athenians were permitted to participate in the contest which included the Pyrrhichios dance, a war dance with weapons and torch-bearing procession of participants  wherein young men competed against each other.

Qualified teenagers attended a procession against the clans of Athens. This procession was led by elders, the “thallophores,” or carriers of young olive-shoots. The participants paraded before a committee, and winners were awarded a shield or ox worth a hundred drachmas.

The Theseia Euandria competition is mentioned in various inscriptions and was held in Athens, as well. An athletic event, it originated in the fifth century. Separate contests were held for the elite, foreigners, and horsemen.

There were beauty contests for grown men, too. These were called kallisteia, stemming from the word “kallos,” meaning “beauty” in Greek. The word kallisteia is used in Greece today to refer to beauty pageants.  There was even a beauty contest strictly for older men in Athens.

Such beauty contests took place throughout ancient Greece and were connected with cults. The winners performed rituals for the deity. In Elis, for example, a beauty contest was held in honor of the goddess Athena. The winner received weapons as prizes, led a procession to the temple, and was given a crown of myrtle.

greek mythology
Ancient Greek statue of Hermes by Praxiteles. Credit: Paolo Villa/Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 4.0

The value of male beauty and strength in Ancient Greece

The male body was almost zealously praised in ancient Greece. Mythical hero Achilles was not only revered as the bravest and most intrepid of warriors. He was also lauded as an incredibly handsome man.

In the Iliad, Homer describes Nireus as the most beautiful man in Troy. Xenophon argued that beauty was not only a privilege of the young. Rather, it continued throughout life and could be found in boys, men, and even seniors.

In ancient Greek society, male beauty held significant influence in the art of persuasion and shaping public opinion. This manipulation of beauty was a common practice employed by individuals seeking to garner support or sway others to their cause. General and statesman Alcibiades is a striking example of how far good looks could take a man.

Beyond its association with physical attraction, beauty encompassed ideals of moral excellence, nobility, and harmonious proportions. Integrated within Greek culture, it exerted influence over social stratification, political alliances, and religious practices. Philosophical concepts of beauty and governance were developed.

Clearly, beauty permeated every aspect of life in ancient Greece, leaving its mark on religious rituals, social hierarchies, political systems, and philosophical ideals alike. There was also a political dimension on the idea of a healthy, fit body. Health and beauty signified wholesomeness, purity, and nobility.

Since war and conflict were so common, most ancient Greek male citizens could expect to be called on to fight at some point during their lifetime. Caring for their body was considered both a social and political obligation. Showing it off thus meant that one took pride in keeping fit for the fight.

See all the latest news from Greece and the world at Contact our newsroom to report an update or send your story, photos and videos. Follow GR on Google News and subscribe here to our daily email!

Related Posts