Size does matter for ancient Greek sculptors and Britain’s IG Nobel winner

Updated: Feb 24

Ancient Greek statues of the classic period, milestones for the evolution of art, depicted the human body in an ideal yet accurate way. Every part of it complied with mathematical harmony, offering aesthetically sound figures based on rules that people could only realize many centuries later.

And to show the ideal male body in all its magnificence, most statues were necessarily naked, which allowed analysts, scholars, academics, historians of art and future artists to observe every single detail on the works of Greek sculptors and their Roman replicators.

The sight of a pair of testicles on a Greek statue led Chris McManus to his first international award. At Harvard University, the psychologist was presented with the 2002 Ig Nobel prize for medicine after publishing a definitive paper on 'Scrotal asymmetry in man and in ancient sculpture.'

McManus had noted a key fact missed by generations of medical experts: that Greek statues' left testicles are always larger than right ones. On real males, the right “bollock” is always the mightier.

Dr McManus also submitted official medical documents to prove his claim, two important research results in the field. In most men, anatomists tell us, the right testicle is higher and larger than the left one (in approximately 63% of men) with an average weight 9.95 and 9.36 grams respectively.

The professor reasonably wondered, why would the Greek sculptors who were so meticulous in their creations and equally observant of human anatomy, make such a colossal mistake when depicting the scrotum? Having examined 187 statues, McManus noted that although ancient Greek sculptors placed the right testicle higher (correctly), they sculpted the left testicle larger (incorrectly).

He assumed that it was impossible for the Greek sculptors to make such a mistake since they were famous for the ideal depiction of the human body. He realized that there should be another reason, something ideological or symbolic an inherent element of their society that they undoubtedly knew but were not allowed to disclose.

There are two prevailing theories about the wrong male anatomy of the ancient Greek statues. One has to do with physiology. Since the right testicle is higher in the scrotum, the logical assumption is that it is lighter and therefore smaller; It is the heavy weight of the left that pulls it down. This is what some analysts assumed and concluded that the ancient Greeks got it wrong.

The second theory is based in more symbolic approaches and has more followers. Ancient Greeks believed that the one testicle attributed male children and the other female. By depicting the one testicle higher than the other the artists inferred that the man would attribute male children.

Both Pythagoras and Aristotle had expressed their point of view on which testicle attributed male children. Anaxagoras had said that the right testicle attributes male and the left one female children.

Whichever theory, McManus observed something that nobody else had never noticed before despite the gap of 2500 years that separate us from the ancient Greek sculptors.

The reason they depicted human body in such a way needs a closer look and studying carefully the ancient Greek scripts. And this is something that only people who speak and understand deeply the ancient Greek language will be able to solve.

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