We all know what a penis looks like. It's that thing that hangs between legs and sometimes gets in the way of wearing pants. Yet, as it turns out, penises have been the subject of fascination for ages—and not just because they're fun to look at. Ancient cultures had very different ideas about what constitutes an ideal penis, and sculptors reflected this in their work. In ancient Greece, small penises were the ideal—so much so that those big ones were considered ugly and undesirable!
The ancient Greeks believed that small penises were ideal.
The ancient Greeks believed that small penises were ideal. Back then, they associated large penises with being violent and irrational. Smaller penises, on the other hand, were more associated with beauty and wisdom in ancient Greece and many other cultures at that time.
The Greeks had their explanation for why a large penis was considered ugly: It was because it looked like a non-human rather than a human organ. They thought the ideal man should look like a god or goddess who had created him out of clay!
The beauty of the foreskin
As you may have noticed, ancient Greek sculptures have relatively small penises. The reason for this is that a big penis was seen as a sign of ugliness, foolishness and lust, not virility or strength.
In ancient Greek culture, a small penis was considered beautiful, and the foreskin was an extension of this ideal. The tapered extremity of the foreskin that extends beyond the glans was known as the "akroposthion". The prepuce (i.e. foreskin) was considered among the most beautiful parts of the male anatomy, as evidenced by Galen, who noted that "nature, out of her abundance, ornaments all the members, especially in man…the ears show obvious ornamentation and so, I suppose, does the skin called prepuce at the end of penis and flesh buttocks."
Greek culture encouraged a glans modesty and required that a large foreskin conceal it; an externalised glans was considered shameful. A sixth-century Corinthian terracotta plaque depicts four enslaved people working in a quarry, one wielding a pickax. A long penis between the legs is painted black, and there is no foreskin; two white lines indicate the scars from the circumcision—clearly defining this individual as non-Greek (or at least like someone who does not live up to the Greek ideal of male beauty).
Ancient Greek sculpture reflects their ideal that bigger was not better.
The ancient Greeks thought big penises were ugly. If you have one, you might not think this is a problem, but the ancient Greeks felt differently. They believed that small penises were ideal and large ones were ugly.
The ancient Romans may have been more positive toward large penises, but their sculptures continue the trend of small penises.
Lustful, depraved satyrs, in particular, were rendered with very large, erect genitals, sometimes almost as tall as their torsos. According to mythology, these creatures were part-man, part-animal, and lacked restraint—a quality reviled by Greek high society. Big penises were vulgar and outside the cultural norm, something sported by the world’s barbarians.
Here are a few sculptures with larger penises portrayed:
Ancient Greek sculptures are all about balance and idealism.
The ancient Greeks were obsessed with balance. They believed that the perfect man had a small penis, and they wanted their statues to reflect that. This is why most ancient Greek statues have comparatively small penises compared to modern statues, especially those depicting athletes.
Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes describes the ideal traits of men to be “a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick.”
Ideals can change
Though we may not have considered it, there are many factors influencing what we consider to be beautiful. We learn these ideals from a young age, whether through education or media exposure. Once you’ve been taught what is and isn't “beautiful” for so long, you might not think twice about them—but why do these standards tend to center on one particular type of body?
Remember: ”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
It’s interesting to see how the different values of ancient Greek society reflected in its art and architecture. The statues show us that the ideal male body was one with a small penis, not a large one. This is something people should keep in mind when looking at ancient art today: it shows us what people valued during that period and how everything can change!
Gotthardt, A. (2018, January 21). Why Ancient Greek Sculptures Have Small Penises. Artsy.
Pappas, Y. (2019, August 9). The art of the ancient Greek penis. Mentor in Greece.