Brittany Bell on the Sounion kouros


view 6The Sounion kouros is an 11 foot tall marble statue dating to c. 580 BCE. It was found in a sanctuary dedicated to Athena at Cape Sounion, Attica. The word kouros means “young man” in ancient Greek. Kouroi were meant to “literally embody the ideals of Homer’s epic poems,” to set a standard of what man should strive to be.[1] The Sounion kouros is larger than life, much like the mythological men it represents. It is a naked man in perfect physical shape, handsome and youthful. He poses in the standard manner for this era, with his left leg forward, arms straight and close to his sides, and clenched fists resting on his thighs.

In a Hymn to Apollo, a poet compares a kouros to a god because of its physical appearance saying “[Then] from his temple he sprang forth, swift as thought…bearing the form of a man, brisk and sturdy, in the prime of his youth, his broad shoulders covered with his hair.”[2] The idealized kouros is not only an image of the perfect man, but also an image of the perfect, immortal god.

The poet Mimnermus of Colophon wrote in the late 7th/early 6th centuries BCE:

What then is life if love the golden is gone?

…Such is the thing of sorrow the gods have made of old age.

Mimnermus is speaking of kalos—what is young and beautiful—in contrast to old age, which is an awful thing. The kouros makes that idea real. He bears no specific attributes that distinguish him as an individual; instead he is the physical representation of what every Greek man strives to be, the equivalent of the modern day male model. However man is mortal and aging is inevitable. Just like the modern model, the Sounion kouros is an ideal that no man can hold onto forever.

[1] Neer, Richard T. Greek Art and Archaeology. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2012. p. 154. Print.

[2] Homeric Hymn to Apollo 44-50, tr. Evelyn-White (modified)