Stele of Glaukotas

Greek, ca. 470-460 BC
Carlos Collection of Ancient Art

The ribbon tied around the temples of the athlete on this gravestone indicates his victory in the games. He cleans himself after exercise with a strigil (one is exhibited in the side gallery at left). Only his upper part is preserved: originally he would have been carved in full profile. A verse inscription on the right side of the stone, carved later (perhaps in the fourth or third centuries BC), explains touchingly that it was his mother who set this up for her son Glaukotas, whom she addresses, in memory of his youth. The name means literally "he with blue ears". This carved inscription may have replaced a painted original or represent a secondary use for the stone.

Athleticism carried associations of excellence (arete), in physical prowess, character and social importance. The idealised youth, represented in his prime, is not a realistic portrait: the features are general, the hair schematic, and we have no way to know whether he was in fact good looking, or young when he died.

Grave-markers such as this one and the fragment of a seated man at right would have been set up prominently along public thoroughfares. They proclaimed the prestige of the family of the deceased. Economic stringencies in the years following the decisive defeats of the two Persian expeditions to Greece in 490 and 480-479 BC, meant that few marble funerary monuments were erected at this time.