One of the defining elements of kalokagathia was also one of the most intangible, yet it is seen in almost all of the Koroi statues, funeral stele, and other types of artwork. It is the connection between kalokagathia — the physically and morally beautiful and good1 — as portrayed in art, with the divine.
Any artist attempting to portray this trait was faced with the problem of just how to do it. Over the course of the archaic period, we witness the trend of the archaic smile, a creepy quasi-smirk worn by the inhabitants of the piece. Steward Flory2 states that the smile “suggests not only intelligence and insight but a playfully concealed secret. The onlooker feels drawn in to a guessing game for the occasion of the smile” (Flory, 20). Right away we know that the smile is indicative of something lying below the surface that we can’t know.
The Archaic Greeks took the ethereal qualities of kalokagathia and extended then one step further; they made the association with the divine. Looking at contemporary works that feature deities, such as the Siphnian treasury frieze (530-525 BCE)3, all of them wear the same blank, quizzical archaic smiles. The northern side features the Gigantomachy, a battle between gods and giants symbolizing the struggle of order against chaos3. In the detail above, we see Apollo and Artemis fighting a giant in hoplite armor. But beyond the faded caption explicitly saying which gods were portrayed (Biers 174)4, the two deities are identical to the archetypal human on grave stele or the koroi statues.
What can we gain from this connection? Kalokagathia is the portrayal of the ideal in humanity. By using the same template for the gods as for people — the poses, the detailing, and even the creepy smiles — the Archaic artists implicitly made a connection between perfection in humanity and the divine. To strive after kalokagathia in life is to pursue godliness.
1 Liddell, Henry , and Robert Scott. “κα^λοκἄγα^θ-ος .” A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: 1940. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057:entry=kaloka)/gaqos>.
2 Flory, Stewart. The Archaic Smile of Herodotus. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1941
3 Kerenyi, Karoly. The Mythology of the Greeks. London: Thames & Hudson, 1980.
4 Biers, William R. The Archaeology of Greece. 2nd ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996. 174-175.