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How relevant is to mention a modern clothing-optional event like World Naked Bike Ride in connection with Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival (see my previous post [1]; also [2-3])? If we agree with the point of view that “phenomena of the Classical Age” are not “only extremely complex but utterly alien to us”, then we should refrain from labelling them “with modern catchwords like Socialism, Impressionism, Capitalism, Clericalism” [4] (and Naturism, or Nudism as well). However, are the practices of the Greco-Roman culture indeed “immeasurably alien and distant” from “our inner selves”?

‘Culture’ can be defined “as a learned pattern of behavior”, which is a way how people live their lives [5]. It is considered “as a complex combination of actions and mechanisms produced by continuous social interactions, generating processes of sense making and reformulation of the process of reality” [6].

Cultures distributed in time and space around the world are different. But, there are some things that all cultures have in common [7]. It is not surprising, because we “see no evidence that our brains and personalities have changes much since” “modern humans, who looked just like us, emerged from Africa more than 100,000 years ago”. Our “wants, dreams, personalities, and desires have probably not changed much in 100,000 years” [8].

The practices universally available across all cultural traditions include “the events and activities” of days of special significance called ‘feasts’, ‘festivals’ or ‘holidays’ [9]. “Feasting is certainly a widespread, almost universal behavior, and it has persisted for many thousands of years” [10]. “Feasts and festivals, whether religious or secular, national or local, serve to meet specific social and psychological needs and provide cohesiveness to social institutions”. Feasts and festivals “have flourished in both ancient and modern civilizations” [9].

It is believed that “most secular holidays … have some relationship – in terms of origin – with religious feasts and festivals”. Even the modern “practice of vacations … is derived from the ancient Roman religious calendar” [9].

Lupercalia. Based on painting by Annibale Carracci in Palazzo Magnani in Bologna; printmaker: anonymous (ca. 1677)

Of course, the World Naked Bike Ride can be hardly viewed as a successor of an ancient Roman festival, but there is a symbolic correspondence between them. The very abandonment of clothing takes the participants of such events to a reality different from that of everyday life. This, in turn, may sow the seeds of a new common vision of decency, propriety, and obscenity, and give rise to the reality of a society with a more open and tolerant attitude towards nudity.

World Naked Bike Ride Philadelphia 2016

The current list of clothing-optional events in Wikipedia [11] includes Burning Man‎ and naked cycling events‎ (not limited to World Naked Bike Ride), together with 25 others of different kind. Nudist festivals have been gaining popularity. More and more people are discovering that “normal, everyday activities could be made more interesting without clothes on” [12].

References
[1] Lupercalia as an ancient clothing-optional event – Vadimage Blog
https://vadimage.wordpress.com/2020/02/23/lupercalia/
[2] Lupercalia – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupercalia
[3] World Naked Bike Ride – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Naked_Bike_Ride
[4] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West: The Complete Edition – Internet Archive
https://archive.org/details/Decline-Of-The-West-Oswald-Spengler/page/n1/mode/2up
[5] Richard Ibuh, The Kayans, Partridge Publishing Singapore, 2014
https://books.google.com/books?id=K3-IBAAAQBAJ
[6] Emanuele Schember et al., The internal structure of the social representation of culture: an empirical contribution, IJASOS – International E-Journal of Advances in Social Sciences, Vol. I, Issue 2, August 2015
http://ijasos.ocerintjournals.org/tr/download/article-file/89504
[7] Do Different Cultures Have Things in Common? – Anthropology 4U – Medium
https://medium.com/@anthropology4u/do-different-cultures-have-things-in-common-ffd4135d31e4
[8] Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, Penguin, 2011
https://books.google.com/books?id=MLkHa1KZF4wC
[9] Feast – Encyclopædia Britannica
https://www.britannica.com/topic/feast-religion
[10] Brian Hayden, The Power of Feasts, Cambridge University Press, 2014
https://books.google.com/books?id=gLhUBAAAQBAJ
[11] Category:Clothing-optional events – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Clothing-optional_events
[12] Dillon DuBois, Clothing-Optional Festivals Around the World – The Vacation Rental Experts
https://www.alltherooms.com/blog/clothing-optional-festivals-around-the-world/

In the month of February, Ancient Rome celebrated the festival of the Lupercalia. It was “the last publicly tolerated remnant of the heathen faith” [1]. According to Ferdinand Gregorovius [2], a historian who specialized in the medieval history of Rome, the festival was “centred round the sanctuary of the Lupercal or the wolf-averting Abolition Pan”. It was the oldest of all the Roman sanctuaries, “a dark cave at the foot of the Palatine”. The feast “was celebrated every year on February 15, and was followed on the 18th by the Februatio, or purifying of the city from the influence of demons”. The Lupercal was able to survive when all other ancient festivals “had yielded to the influence of Christianity”. So great “being the reverence of the Romans for this, the most ancient of their national customs, that even as Christians they could not renounce it” and “to the horror of the Bishop it was still celebrated” even after nearly five hundred years “passed since Paul preached the gospel in Rome” [1].

But why was the Bishop so horrified?

Ferdinand Gregorovius described the main feature of the festival in a following way (the bold font is mine):

The Luperci (youths, members of the sacred college) uncovered themselves unabashed before the eyes of the people, and clad only with an apron of the skins of the goats slain in the sacrifice, ran from the Lupercal through the streets, swinging straps of leather, with which they hit the women strokes on the right hand, thereby to bestow the blessing of fruitfulness. [1]

Let’s turn to ancient sources. We have Plutarch’s record of this feast.

At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped to an easy delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. [3]

Another translation slightly smooths out the overall picture:

On this occasion many of the young nobles and magistrates run through the city without their toga… [4]

In order to clarify the character of the festival, I’ll refer to Ovid.

You ask, Why then do the Luperci run? and why do they strip themselves and bear their bodies naked, for so it is their wont to run? The god himself loves to scamper, fleet of foot, about the high mountains, and he himself takes suddenly to flight. The god himself is nude and bids his ministers go nude: besides, raiment sorted not well with running. [5]

Ovid believed the feast took us to ancient times when

there was as yet no use for horses, every man carried his own weight: the sheep went clothed in its own wool. Under the open sky they lived and went about naked, inured to heavy showers and rainy winds. Even to this day the unclad ministers recall the memory of the olden custom and attest what comforts the ancients knew. [5]

He also tells a “merry tale” “handed down from days of old” which explains why “betrayed by vesture, the god loves not garments which deceive the eye, and bids his worshippers come naked to his rites“. [5]

Study for Lupercalia by Annibale Carracci (16th century)

Study for Lupercalia by Annibale Carracci (16th century)

In the end, the bishops got what they wanted and put an end to the “horror”. Pope Gelasius, who was appointed in March 492, insisted that the Romans must understand that “they could not at the same time eat at the table of the Lord and at that of demons, nor drink from the chalice of God and that of the devil.” “It is probable that the zeal of the Pope succeeded in inducing the Senate to abolish the Lupercalia.” The Church “transformed the old festival of purification in the Lupercalia into the feast of the Purification of Mary”[1] (cp. [6]).

If we accept Ovid’s interpretation of the meaning of the feast, the abandonment of clothing will appear as part and parcel of the celebration. In ancient times, nudity often was considered as a means of ritual purification. Even in ancient Christianity, “the process of taking off clothes was an essential moment of the baptismal ceremony, as it was structured during the 4th century” [7]. Maybe these days we are witnessing the rebirth of the ancient attitude towards nudity. I have in mind, of course, the World Naked Bike Ride [8] and similar events. Who knows? Maybe they’ll become something big: new festivals of purification. The “garments” “deceive the eye”, after all.

Cambridge WNBR 2016

Cambridge WNBR 2016

References
[1] Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 2010
https://books.google.com/books?id=3Twz72ZYW3YC
[2] Ferdinand Gregorovius – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_Gregorovius
[3] Plutarch, The Parallel Lives. The Life of Julius Caesar, Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Caesar*.html
[4] Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives Volume III, George Bell & Sons, 1892 – The Project Gutenberg
https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14140
[5] Ovid, Fasti. Book 2 – Theoi Project – Classical Texts Library
https://www.theoi.com/Text/OvidFasti2.html
[6] According to another unverified hypothesis, the festival of Lupercalia was re-branded as “St. Valentine’s Day” (see Drew Miller, Ancient History of Valentine’s Day Reveals a Super Kinky Past
https://www.mic.com/articles/82391/ancient-history-of-valentine-s-day-reveals-a-super-kinky-past,
Valentine’s Day – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine’s_Day)
[7] World Naked Bike Ride – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Naked_Bike_Ride
[8] Giovanni Filoramo, Baptismal Nudity as a Means of Ritual Purification in Ancient Christianity. In: Transformations of the Inner Self in Ancient Religions
https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004379084/B9789004379084_s026.xml
https://books.google.com/books?id=nSf5Sb5xdGAC

“In order to exploit the environment all organisms adapt their bodies to meet specialized environmental conditions,”

wrote Edward T. Hall [1], the anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher, in his book “The Silent Language” [2], in which he analyzed “the many ways in which people “talk” to one another without the use of words”. He gives a few examples of adaptations:

“the long neck of the giraffe (adapted to high foliage of trees), the teeth of the saber-toothed tiger, toes of the tree sloth, hoof of the horse, and man’s opposable thumb”.

The adaptation of the body is not the end of the story. The author continues:

“Occasionally organisms have developed specialized extensions of their bodies to take the place of what the body itself might do and thereby free the body for other things. Among these ingenious natural developments are the web of the spider, cocoons, nests of birds and fish.” [italics added]

Fieldfare by Andreas Trepte

The man “with his specialized body” is not an exception. (The passage below is cited by Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy [3].)

“Today man has developed extensions for practically everything he used to do with his body. The evolution of weapons begins with the teeth and the fist and ends with the atom bomb. Clothes and houses are extensions of man’s biological temperature-control mechanisms. Furniture takes the place of squatting and sitting on the ground. Power tools, glasses, TV, telephones, and books which carry the voice across both time and space are examples of material extensions. Money is a way of extending and storing labor. Our transportation networks now do what we used to do with our feet and backs. In fact, all man-made material things can be treated as extensions of what man once did with his body or some specialized part of his body.”

Farmer in rocking-chair reading The Progressive Farmer. “Farmer reading his farm paper” By George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

This can be summarized in the table:

Function Body Body Extensions
Weapons teeth, fist atom bomb
Temperature control biological mechanisms clothes, houses
Rest, recreation, relaxation squatting, sitting on the ground furniture
Communication voice TV, telephones, books
Transportation feet and backs transportation networks

What I learned from this list is that one specialized extension of the human body stands out against the other developments. It is neither shameful nor illegal to squat or sit on the ground, to carry something on your back or to use your voice without touching the phone. But it is extremely undesirable to control your body temperature without clothes on even at comfortable ambient temperatures. It seems ridiculous, especially when one takes into account that the purpose of developing specialized extensions of the body is to free the body.

According to Edward T. Hall, “culture controls behavior in deep and persisting ways, many of which are outside of awareness and therefore beyond conscious control of the individual”. The rich experience taught anthropologists one thing, namely that

“culture is more than mere custom that can be shed or changed like a suit of clothes.”

References
[1] Edward T. Hall – Wikipedia
[2] Edward T. Hall. The Silent Language (Anchor Books, 1973)
[3] The Gutenberg Galaxy – Wikipedia

Sigmund Freud once said that his favourite dream was “being naked in a crowd of strangers”. I have read about it on Dream Sleep, “the official dream website of … the author of The Hidden Meaning of Dreams and other bestselling titles”. It is also mentioned that “dreams about being naked in a public place are one of the most commonly reported dreams”. Another recognized specialist in dreams points out that “nudity in dreams often occurs in scenarios that would shock us in our waking hours”.

What is the meaning of these dreams? (The interpretation of the dream, of course, “depends on a person’s past experience and the person’s system of values”.) According to dream interpreters,

  • if, in your dream, you appear “nude before friends or colleagues“, it may reflect your feelings of vulnerability, or that you are hiding something, for instance, keeping some aspect of your character a secret.
  • If no one else in the dream notices your nakedness, “it indicates that fears of appearing foolish in front of others are unfounded”.
  • If not you, but others appear nude, “the dream may indicate that the dreamer is able to see through the defenses or lies of others”.
  • If “the dreamer feels disgusted by the nudity of others” in his or her dream, this may mean that he or she is disappointed in them (or even in him- or herself), or don’t want to “let others be themselves”.
  • Finally, if the dreamer accepts the nakedness of those around him”, he or she “has probably shed outmoded beliefs and accepted others for what they are”.

The last interpretation seems the most plausible to me. The events of the dreams give clues to hidden and unacknowledged beliefs. Maybe, one day we, most of us, will acknowledge that we are ready to step out of the dream and drop outmoded beliefs in reality, accepting the nakedness “of those around us” and allowing others to be themselves.

Richard Mauch, The Knights dream (1902)

Richard Mauch, The Knights dream (1902) – Wikimedia Commons

References
1. Dream Sleep, http://www.dreamsleep.net
2. Judith Millidge, The handbook of dreams: how to interpret and understand your dreams, Barnes & Noble Books, 2004.
3. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Sheryl Martin, The Tao of Dreaming, Berkley Books, New York, 2005.

Within one-tenth of a second, people form a variety of opinions about each other based on what they see, and these opinions are not necessarily favorable to us.

Yesterday, while browsing my Google+ feed, I came across a link to my post “Is it a good idea to share your nude photographs, if you are a nudist?”  kindly reblogged and shared on Google+ by Paul K., author of the wonderful blog about nudism Zjuzdme.org. Someone on Google+ left a comment under my photo saying, let me quote, “so small dick u have”. It was definitely addressed to me, not Paul. So I thought that maybe it was not a good idea to share my nude photograph taken on a chilly day.

With a feeling of a little disappointment, I turned to the history of visual art.

When it comes to art, there are two popular questions: “Why does Michelangelo’s Adam have such a ridiculously small penis” and why does “the most famous of Greek statues, Michelangelo’s David”, depict “big muscles, but a tiny penis”?

Michelangelo Buonarroti - Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo Buonarroti – Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo learned the philosophy and art of ancient Greece and admired the Greeks’ attempt to capture ideal beauty in their statues. According to Larissa Bonfantethere were “two concurrent strains of nudity in Greek art: one reflecting a magical or apotropaic function (herms, satyrs, etc.), characterized by the erect phallus; another, developing from athletic nudity, a more empirical interest in the naked, athletic male body (kouroi, athletes and male figures in black- and red-figure vase painting), where the sex organs themselves are less obtrusive”.

Statue of kouros - Wikimedia Commons

Statue of kouros – Wikimedia Commons

“Satyrs, animal-like human figures with horses’ tails, were represented full of vitality, naked, with exaggerated huge phalli (or phalluses)”. Actors who represented satyrs in the theater in the 5th century B.C. “wore animal-skin loincloths with a large phallus sewn on”. The herms the Athenians encountered daily in the streets of their city, from ca. 540 B.C. on, “consisted of a male head sculptured on a pillar, on which was carved an erect phallus, serving as a reminder of the powerful magic residing in the alerted male member”.

On the kouros, Greek sculpture representing a nude young man, “the sex was simply uncovered; while the phallus was emphasized on satyrs and herms, and on the stage”. “The kouros type fits the concept of the sacred quality of nudity: its nakedness represented a feature of initiation ritual. It referred to those religious dances and rituals that called for the candidate’s nakedness as a special costume or habit”. The ideal of youthful male beauty “included the small penis of a younger man”. “Youth was an essential aspect of the nudity of the kouros. Old men and ugly slaves have longer penises”.

“In contrast to the large, erect phallus of the magic, apotropaic figure, a beautiful young man was characterized by a small penis. For women, too, whether they were represented naked or dressed, in art, literature, and life, depilation and small breasts were part of the ideal of youthful beauty”.

Of course, each time has its own aesthetic values. I’ll bear it in mind when choosing the images for my blog. The photo below is very similar to the one I’ve used to illustrate the post about sharing nude photographs.

Self-portrait 08/09/13 by t-maker on DeviantArt