Myron, an Athenian sculptor from the mid-5th century BC, was the best sculptor at the time. He was well-known for the sculptures of athletes. His work “The Discobolus” is considered a masterpiece of ancient Greece and a symbolic image of the Olympics. Why did Myron choose an athlete throwing discus? Did ancient Olympic athletes indeed compete naked?
Myron’s original bronze sculptures were lost so the Roman copies give a clue. The marble copy produced in the first century captures a young naked man about to throw a discus by spinning. The young man’s upper body is leaning forward and slightly turned to a side with his right arm in the back. Putting most of the weight on the right leg with his left leg slightly in the back, his face is blank as if he is trying to control his emotions. Such a position looks so perfect that many athletes tried to mimic it. It was neither easy nor efficient, however, as it was a piece of art, rather than a model to show the actual pose of an athlete in competition. Myron’s sculpture is praised for capturing not only a sense of movement but also the Greek ideal of proportion, balance, and harmony.
Discus throw was the first among five sports played in the ancient Olympic pentathlon. The sculptor must have thought about which sport was the best to feature an athlete’s well-trained body in an ideal way, and the S-shaped pose of discus throwing was a perfect choice.
The ancient Olympics were quite different from what they are now. They were part of a religious ceremony to gods and athletes from prestigious families all competed naked. Women were not even allowed in the audience. Rules were extremely strict – a foul could mean a death sentence at the time. However, winners gain tremendous honor and therefore requested famous sculptors to make sculptures of them to preserve the moment of glory. Myron’s sculpture became a symbol of the Olympics as it features the perfect harmony of a beautiful, dutifully-trained body and a strong mind.