A kouros is a statue of a standing nude youth that did not represent any one individual youth but the idea of youth. Used in Archaic Greece as both a dedication to the gods in sanctuaries and as a grave monument, the standard kouros stood with his left foot forward, arms at his sides, looking straight ahead. Carved in from four sides, the statue retained the general shape of the marble block. Archaic Greek sculptors reduced human anatomy and musculature in these statues to decorative patterning on the surface of the marble.
The kouros embodies many of the ideals of the aristocratic culture of Archaic Greece. One such ideal of this period was arete, a combination of moral and physical beauty and nobility. Arete was closely connected with kalokagathia, literally a composite term for beautiful and good or noble. Writing in the mid 500s B.C., the Greek poet Theognis summed this idea up as "What is beautiful is loved, and what is not is unloved." In a society that emphasized youth and male beauty, the artistic manifestation of this world view was the kouros. Indeed, when the poet Simonides wrote about arete in the late 500s, he used a metaphor seemingly drawn from the kouros: "In hand and foot and mind alike foursquare/ fashioned without flaw."
Neither art historians nor scientists have been able to completely resolve the issue of the Getty Museum kouros's authenticity. Certain elements of the statue have led to this questioning, especially a mixture of earlier and later stylistic traits and the use of marble from the island of Thasos at a date when its use is unexpected. Yet the anomalies of the Getty kouros may be due more to our limited knowledge of Greek sculpture in this period rather than to mistakes on the part of a forger.