Some years ago an exhibit of art from Pompeii passed through Chicago, and I saw it with my wife and mother-in-law. I remember coming up on a statue from behind, which appeared to be a very smooth person with longish hair. My mother-in-law asked me if it was a man or a woman, until she saw the front, which was not unlike your picture. “Oh…..I guess it is male!” Considering he had an erection you could have hung a firehose from, I should say so.
“Priapus.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
[Accessed July 30, 2008].
The Roman patron god of gardens, viniculture, sailors and fishermen. He is portrayed wearing a long tunic that leaves the genitals uncovered. The Romans placed a satyr-like statue of him, painted red and with an enormous phallus, in gardens as some kind of scarecrow, but also to ensure fruitfulness. The fruits of the fields, honey and milk were offered to him, and occasionally donkeys. He was very popular and in his honor the Priapea was written–a collection of 85 perfectly written poems, sometimes funny but usually obscene.
Originally, Priapus was a fertility god from Asia Minor, especially in Lampsacus on the Hellespont, and was the most important god of the local pantheon (see: the Greek Priapus). He was introduced in Greece around 400 BCE but never was very popular. Priapus’ attribute is the pruning knife.
Also, here is a link to a larger glimpse of the fresco (http://www.theo....html), where you can see that Priapus is being weighed on scales against (according to the attribution) the fruits of the earth.
My mother brought be back a winged phallus votive from Pompeii, but sadly, with only an apartment, I don’t have a garden in which to display it. And I don’t think the pigeons would treat it kindly, either.
The Priapic outdoor statues (which always showed him in a constant state of “Priapism”) were usually made of stone, and reportedly often had a hole drilled through the center into which a wooden rod was driven from behind. This “phallus” was primarily made of a wood which weathered well (such as cypress) and it was customary to rub it as you passed for good fortune and fertility. This tended to wear it down, along with the practice of scraping off a few shavings for making a fertility “tea” (hence the need for a constantly renewable “woody”). Young maidens customarily mounted the sculptures to dilate or penetrate their hymens (as they sacrificed their virginity, ostensibly as a preparation for marriage), after first anointing the “head” with oil. Hmm… Gimmie that old-time religion… Oops! Did I say that out loud?
As a fertility symbol, Priapus was often seen overlooking the family garden, and some scholars believe its where the modern day garden gnome originated. In western Europe, he was typically clad in a robe (from which his penis protruded like a “flasher”) and wore a pointy hat or hood (http://en.wikip...3.jpg) much as the gnomes of today. Perhaps its just my dirty mind, but I think the fellow depicted in the previous sentence’s link, may have had dual purposes as well.
Dionysus (or “Bacchus”) was said to be Priapus’s father, and Aphrodite was his mother…
Priapus wasn’t generally seen as a sexual symbol. This particular example is taken from the doorway of the house of the Vettii. The owners were two brothers who had amassed a lot of wealth through being merchants. It was basically intended to emphasise the wealth they had and how ‘fertile’ they were.
Also, the phallus is usually seen as being apotropaic, they warded off evil. So it also is used to protect the wealth they kept in their house.