How the Venus de Milo Changed Female Beauty
More than just a pretty face, the Venus de Milo (rediscovered on this date in 1820) has changed ideas of female beauty ever since, often in surprising ways.
When Greek farmer Yorgos Kentrotas found some broken pieces of a statue buried in the ancient ruins on the island of Milos on April 8, 1820, he had no idea what he had found. Experts later identified the statue as depicting the Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite. Today, we know that statue better by the goddess’ Roman name—Venus. The Venus de Milo quickly left Milos for Paris and the Louvre Museum, where it still resides today. That (re)discovery of the Venus de Milo—nearly two centuries ago now—changed the idea of female beauty in the 19th century and ever since, for better and worse. In the age of the selfie and its prime practitioner Kim Kardashian (above right), what does the Venus de Milo still say about female beauty?
We’re used to the Venus de Milo disarmed, but scholars believe that the fully armed statue (shown in the video above) depicted the Greek myth of “The Judgment of Paris.” Eris, goddess of discord, pouting over not being invited to a feast, crashed the party with a golden apple from the Garden of the Hesperides upon which was inscribed “for the fairest one.” Goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all staked claims. Zeus, smelling trouble, refused to act as judge, declaring instead that the mortal Paris of Troy would do the job. All three goddesses tried to bribe the mortal judge, but Aphrodite’s bribe—Helen, the most beautiful woman on Earth (and wife of Greek king Menelaus)—won. As Helen’s face “launched a thousand ships” and set the Trojan War in motion, Aphrodite/Venus admired her prize, as shown in the Venus de Milo.
It’s appropriate that the Venus de Milo depicts the results of a beauty contest, because it’s launched a beauty contest ever since in Western Civilization. From the beginnings of Greek art, male nudity was as common due in large part to men frequently being seen nude in athletic competitions. Female nudity, however, remained under wraps for centuries. The Nike of Samothrace, another Louvre landmark, shows Greek art hinting at the female form through wet, clinging drapery—the ancient equivalent of a wet t-shirt contest. Not until 350 BC did Praxiteles sculpt female goddesses. The Venus de Milo comes after Praxiteles’ breakthrough, but still clings to the wet t-shirt days with her covered lower half.
Why wait so long to unveil the female nude? The Greek even coined a word, “kaloskagathos,” for how good looks equaled a good person, so showing off what you had was just part of being a good person, at least if you were a man. Greek author Hesiod called the first woman “kalon kakon” or “a beautiful-evil thing.” The Greek double standard lets you look upon male nudes risk free, but, as anyone who’s read Greek mythology can tell you, it’s dangerous to look upon the nude female form, especially that of a goddess. For example, when Actaeon caught a glimpse of a bathing Artemis, she turned him into a deer so his own hunting dogs would devour him. When you looked at the nude Venus de Milo in her entirety, musing upon her prize and the Trojan War she started, you knew she was trouble. The Greeks invented the concept of the irresistible “bad girl” long before Kim Kardashian.
But how did we get to Kim Kardashian as today’s Venus de Milo? The video above showing women’s ideal body types throughout history starts with ancient Egypt and ends with KK as the epitome of “post-modern” beauty, stopping briefly in the middle to visit the Venus de Milo and ancient Greece. In many ways, the Venus de Milo’s rediscovery in 1820 begins the politicization of female beauty. A Greek may have unearthed her, but it took a Frenchman, Jules Dumont d'Urville, to recognize her value. Like so many educated men in the 19th century, d’Urville knew the work of art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. “Winckelmann’s belief that Greek art flourished because of the political freedom in classical times became almost a mantra for orators during the French Revolution,” Gregory Curtis writes in Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo. “And his belief that art can reveal the divine as well as or better than religion is still with us today.” The goddess of Greek religion thus became the new “goddess” of faith in modern democracy.
Following Winckelmann’s cue, d’Urville (shown above) and the French government purchased the statue and made her the “face” of their propaganda program. Beauty became a commodity and political weapon like never before. The old Greek symbolism of good looks equals good person transformed into modern political theory that possessing good looks (in statue form) equals good government. Obviously, the American government doesn’t use Kim Kardashian for propaganda purposes, but who can argue that she’s not the “face” of contemporary America’s obsession with social media and reality television? If our main export is our popular culture, we’ve been shipping a lot of Kim around the world lately. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons used to have the Venus de Milo as part of their official seal. How long before they put “post-modern” beauty ideal Kim Kardashian in her place?
Although men have used the beauty of the Venus de Milo for two centuries now for their political purposes, women are starting to claim her as one of their own. In October 2012, the activists Femen France protested ineffectual French laws against rape by posing topless in front of the Venus de Milo (shown above). They placed a sign on the statue reading “Rape Me, I Am Immortal,” alluding to the statue’s missing arms, which they used to symbolize female vulnerability to sexual violence. “We have hands to stop rape,” the protesters shouted in contrast, calling for female empowerment at the feat of the helpless goddess. As ideas of female beauty and what that beauty means (and to whom) evolve, the Venus de Milo keeps getting rediscovered and reconsidered as a game changer in history’s great beauty pageant.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity
- Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
- And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
- If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist
Chicagoland is Obamaland
Image: The Pudding
Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.
Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).
The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.
The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.
How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."
‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'
Image: The Pudding
Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.
That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.
The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.
The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".
Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.
Royals and (other) mortals
Image: The Pudding
There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.
Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.
But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.
Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).
Freaks and angels
The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.
It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.
Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...
Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.
- A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
- However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
- In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
Technology may soon grant us immortality, in a sense. Here's how.
- Through the Connectome Project we may soon be able to map the pathways of the entire human brain, including memories, and create computer programs that evoke the person the digitization is stemmed from.
- We age because errors build up in our cells — mitochondria to be exact.
- With CRISPR technology we may soon be able to edit out errors that build up as we age, and extend the human lifespan.
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