Vitruvius, Roman engineer and architect, wrote: "“No temple can be put together coherently unless it conforms exactly to the principle relating the members of a well-shaped man.”
Last year, Bloomberg reviewed a book by Toby Lester on the origins of the basic principles of classical architecture, which derived from the male body; in the ultimate act of anthropomorphizaton, these principles were later applied to cosmology:
In “Da Vinci’s Ghost,” the journalist Toby Lester peers closely at Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” -- its origins, its meaning and the circumstances of the artist who drew it.
It’s called “Vitruvian Man” because the idea for it came from “Ten Books on Architecture,” written by a Roman military engineer named Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. For the Romans, architecture meant proportion, which meant the body.
... Vitruvius wrote ...: “If a man were placed on his back with his hands and feet outspread, and the point of a compass put on his navel, both his fingers and his toes would be touched by the line of the circle going around him.”
Similarly, for a perfectly proportioned man with feet together and hands outspread (a posture that later would inevitably betoken the crucified Christ), “you would find the breadth the same as the height, just as in areas that have been squared with a set square.”
Over time, the notion of the body as the locus classicus of proportion became tied to the relationship between the body and the cosmos -- the microcosm and the macrocosm. The 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen put it this way:
“The firmament, as it were, is man’s head; sun, moon and stars are as the eyes; air as the hearing; the winds are as smell; dew as taste; the sides of the world are as arms and as touch.”
Although I have previously questioned the health of global societies which have for the past two thousand years relied upon male divinity as the measuring stick of civilization, it is also true that diminished masculinity is a cause for concern.
The post-World War II media, technological and communications revolutions have spawned a lot of cyber Cassanovas and deskchair quarterbacks. These not-men cultivate the anti-heroism of our age, who contradict everything to which Theodore Roosevelt referred in his famous 'Man in the Arena' speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on 23 September 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Are men really becoming less manly? This development caught the attention of the bloggers at The Art of Manliness, who observe that testosterone levels have been falling in America over the past decades; in fact, this problem is happening worldwide.
Take Finnish results from 2006, which testify to a generational collapse in testosterone levels:
Antti Perheentupa M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Turku, in Finland, presented evidence of a similar decline. The Finnish results suggested the change was happening among younger men, too. A man born in 1970 had about 20 percent less testosterone at age 35 than a man of his father’s generation at the same age. “When I saw another group reproducing our results,” says Travison, “that was convincing to me that we were seeing a true biological change over time, as opposed to just some measurement error.”
Last week, The Art of Manliness devoted a week of posts (starting here) to the impact of testosterone on men's health and social health in general:
In more traditional cultural environments, this decline in testosterone, combined with benighted gendercide against females, results in sick societies where violence becomes the reverse creed of the disenfranchised male. Neither, in developed countries, does masculinity automatically thrive in the presence of a set of free weights; nor does it come out of a pill bottle. The Art of Manliness claims that men must cultivate physical and mental health to counter the phenomenon of declining testosterone. As the bloggers there put it: "Try to scrub your mind of juiced-up bodybuilding bros in the gym or paunchy middle-age men rubbing prescription gel on their soft bellies."A man is more than his hormones, right? Doesn’t being a man mean stuff like taking responsibility, working hard, and having integrity?Sure. But do you know who else takes responsibility and works hard? Women.When we defined manliness, we said that men and women share many of the same virtues, but often attain and express them in different ways. The metaphor we used was that of two different musical instruments, playing the exact same notes, but producing two different sounds — each which adds rich music to the world.Testosterone is what shapes the form of your instrument — your body and mind — and the “sound” it makes. And for a long time now, there’s been a lot more flutes in the orchestra than tubas. The notes being played remain the same, but the music’s gotten a whole lot less brassy.There’s been a lot of talk recently about what’s the matter with men these days. Some folks think men just don’t seem as manly as they used to be. When they compare their grandfathers with men today, the latter just don’t seem to stack up. Plenty of theories get thrown around as to the reason behind this perceived decline in manhood — changing economy, video games, feminism — and much of it is bunk.But there is in fact one thing about manliness that we can objectively point to as being in decline. Testosterone levels.Most of you probably know that your individual testosterone levels fall as you age. But studies have shown that men today, across the population, have about 20% less testosterone than men the same age did just two decades ago. That’s a huge dip.What’s causing this decline? Rising obesity and less smoking, for starters. The latter, while causing a myriad of deleterious health effects, actually increases your T. Go figure. But even when these factors are taken into account, they don’t explain the whole decline. It has been theorized that environmental toxins are also playing a big role. Many modern household products and foods contain chemicals that raise your levels of estrogen, and decrease your T.Not only does this society-wide drop in testosterone negatively impact men’s health and well-being ... but it also likely affects the preponderance of traditionally masculine ways of thinking, acting, and feeling.So if you’ve ever felt like men today just don’t have the same swagger, the same virility as your grandpa did, that they don’t look and act as masculine as the strapping men you see in black and white photographs, well it turns out it’s not all in your head. There’s a reason guys today are more like the Biebs than the Duke, and it’s because we don’t have as much T flowing through our veins anymore.
If all that is too much, Vice has the Sad-Ass Guide to Being a Man, which starts: "You're not 11 or 17 anymore. Get your fucking shit together." Vice on cologne: "Buy some already you fucking mutant." Vice on eating: " Practice some restraint here, piggy. Hey now, don't get all huffy puffy, I'm fat, it's cool. I'm just saying, don't eat a rack of BBQ ribs like it's cunnilingus hour at the pussy patch. Use a napkin, chew with your mouth closed, really show that special someone that you're trying to put forth some effort to appear slightly post-neanderthal." etc. etc.
In the 1990s, the Canadian writer Douglas Coupland created a weight-lifting teen hero for his novel, Shampoo Planet. Perhaps Coupland's greatest gift as a writer is his ability to string the reader along with a seemingly light story, and then suddenly rip away all pretense and get to the heart of the matter. In this novel, his hero, who has been endlessly working out, suddenly realizes what all those muscles are for - and he turns on his alcoholic step-father who has been beating his mother. That turning point, that switch from cosmetic and psychological vanity to action and responsibility, taken on principle, was once the classical lens through which humanity viewed the universe.