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RICHARD PAYNE KNIGHT has written with great learning on the origin and history of the worship of Priapus among the ancients. This worship, which was but a part of that of the generative powers, appears to have been the most ancient of the superstitions of the human race, 1 has prevailed more or less among all known peoples before the introduction of Christianity, and, singularly enough, so deeply it seems to have been implanted in human nature, that even the promulgation of the Gospel did not abolish it, for it continued to exist, accepted and often encouraged by the mediæval clergy. The occasion of Payne Knight's work was the discovery that
this worship continued to prevail in his time, in a very remarkable form, at Isernia in the kingdom of Naples, a full description of which will be found in his work. The town of Isernia was destroyed, with a great portion of its inhabitants, in the terrible earthquake which so fearfully devastated the kingdom of Naples on the 26th of July, 1805, nineteen years after the appearance of the book alluded to. Perhaps with it perished the last trace of the worship of Priapus in this particular form; but Payne Knight was not acquainted with the fact that this superstition, in a variety of forms, prevailed throughout Southern and Western Europe largely during the Middle Ages, and that in some parts it is hardly extinct at the present day; and, as its effects were felt to a more considerable extent than people in general suppose in the most intimate and important relations of society, whatever we can do to throw light upon its mediæval existence, though not an agreeable subject, cannot but form an important and valuable contribution to the better knowledge of mediæval history. Many interesting facts relating to this subject were brought together in a volume published in Paris by Monsieur J. A. Dulaure, under the title, Des Divinités Génératices chez les Anciens et les Modernes, forming part of an Histoire Abrégée des differens Cultes,
by the same author. 2 This book, however, is still very imperfect; and it is the design of the following pages to give, with the most interesting of the facts already collected by Dulaure, other facts and a description and explanation of monuments, which tend to throw a greater and more general light on this curious subject.
The mediæval worship of the generative powers, represented by the generative organs, was derived from two distinct sources. In the first place, Rome invariably carried into the provinces she had conquered her own institutions and forms of worship, and established them permanently. In exploring the antiquities of these provinces, we are astonished at the abundant monuments of the worship of Priapus in all the shapes and with all the attributes and accompaniments, with which we are already so well acquainted in Rome and Italy. Among the remains of Roman civilization in Gaul, we find statues or statuettes of Priapus, altars dedicated to him, the gardens and fields entrusted to his care, and the phallus, or male member, figured in a variety of shapes as a protecting power against evil influences of various kinds. With this idea the well-known figure was sculptured on the walls of public buildings,
placed in conspicuous places in the interior of the house, worn as an ornament by women, and suspended as an amulet to the necks of children. Erotic scenes of the most extravagant description covered vessels of metal, earthenware, and glass, intended, on doubt, for festivals and usages more or less connected with the worship of the principle of fecundity.
At Aix in Provence there was found, on or near the site of the ancient baths, to which it had no doubt some relation, an enormous phallus, encircled with garlands, sculptured in white marble. At Le Chatelet, in Champagne, on the site of a Roman town, a colossal phallus was also found. Similar objects in bronze, and of smaller dimensions, are so common, that explorations are seldom carried on upon a Roman site in which they are not found, and examples of such objects abound in the museums, public or private, of Roman antiquities. The phallic worship appears to have flourished especially at Nemausus, now represented by the city of Nîmes in the south of France, where the symbol of this worship appeared in sculpture on the walls of its amphitheatre and on other buildings, in forms some of which we can hardly help regarding as fanciful, or even playful. Some of the more remarkable of these are figured in our plates, II and III.
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ROMAN SCULPTURE FROM NIMES
The first of these, 3 is the figure of a double phallus. It is sculptured on the lintel of one of the vomitories, or issues, of the second range of seats of the Roman amphitheatre, near the entrance-gate which looks to the south. The double and the triple phallus are very common among the small Roman bronzes, which appear to have served as amulets and for other similar purposes. In the latter, one phallus usually serves as the body, and is furnished with legs, generally those of the goat; a second occupies the usual place of this organ; and a third appears in that of a tail. On a pilaster of the amphitheatre of Nîmes we see a triple phallus of this description, 4 with goat's legs and feet. A small bell is suspended to the smaller phallus in front; and the larger organ which forms the body is furnished with wings. The picture is completed by the introduction of three birds, two of which are pecking the unveiled head of the principal phallus, while the third is holding down the tail with its foot.
Several examples of these triple phalli occur in the Musée Secret of the antiquities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. In the examples figured in that work, the hind part of the main phallus assumes clearly
the form of a dog; 5 and to most of them are attached small bells, the explanation of which appears as yet to be very unsatisfactory. The wings also are common attributes of the phallus in these monuments. Plutarch is quoted as an authority for the explanation of the triple phallus as intended to signify multiplication of its productive faculty. 6
On the top of another pilaster of the amphitheatre at Nîmes, to the right of the principal western entrance, was a bas-relief, also representing a triple phallus, with legs of dog, and winged, but with a further accompaniment. 7 A female, dressed in the Roman stola, stands upon the phallus forming the tail, and holds both it and the one forming the body with a bridle. 8 This bas-relief was taken down in 1829, and is now preserved in the museum of Nîmes.
A still more remarkable monument of this class was found in the course of excavations made at
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MONUMENT FOUND AT NIMES IN 1825
[paragraph continues] Nîmes in 1825. It is engraved in our plate XXVI, and represents a bird, apparently intended for a vulture, with spread wings and phallic tail, sitting on four eggs, each of which is designed, no doubt, to represent the female organ. The local antiquarians give to this, as to the other similar objects, an emblematical signification; but it may perhaps be more rightly regarded as a playful conception of the imagination. A similar design, with some modifications, occurs not unfrequently among Gallo-Roman antiquities. We have engraved a figure of the triple phallus governed, or guided, by the female, 9 from a small bronze plate, on which it appears in bas-relief; it is now preserved in a private collection in London, with a duplicate, which appears to have been cast from the same mould, though the plate is cut through, and they were evidently intended for suspension from the neck. Both came from the collection of M. Baudot of Dijon. The lady here bridles only the principal phallus; the legs are, as in the monument last described, those of a bird, and it is standing upon three eggs, apple-formed, and representing the organ of the other sex.
In regard to this last-mentioned object, another very remarkable monument of what appears at Nîmes to have been by no means a secret worship,
was found there during some excavations on the site of the Roman baths. It is a squared mass of stone, the four sides of which, like the one represented in our engraving, are covered with similar figures of the sexual characteristics of the female, arranged in rows. 10 It has evidently served as a base, probably to a statue, or possibly to an altar. This curious monument is now preserved in the museum at Nîmes.
As Nîmes was evidently a centre of this Priapic worship in the south of Gaul, so there appear to have been, perhaps lesser, centres in other parts, and we may trace it to the northern extremities of the Roman province, even to the other side of the Rhine. On the site of Roman settlements near Xanten, in lower Hesse, a large quantity of pottery and other objects have been found, of a character to leave no doubt as to the prevalence of this worship in that quarter. 11 But the Roman settlement which occupied the site of the modern city of Antwerp appears to have been one of the most remarkable seats of the worship of
[paragraph continues] Priapus in the north of Gaul, and it continued to exist there till a comparatively modern period.
When we cross over to Britain we find this worship established no less firmly and extensively in that island. Statuettes of Priapus, phallic bronzes, pottery covered with obscene pictures, are found wherever there are any extensive remains of Roman occupation, as our antiquaries know well. The numerous phallic figures in bronze, found in England, are perfectly identical in character with those which occur in France and Italy. In illustration of this fact, we give two examples of the triple phallus, which appears to have been, perhaps in accordance with the explanation given by Plutarch, an amulet in great favour. The first was found in London in 1842. 12 As in the examples found on the continent, a principal phallus forms the body, having the hinder parts of apparently a dog, with wings of a peculiar form, perhaps intended for those of a dragon. Several small rings are attached, no doubt for the purpose of suspending bells. Our second example 13 was found at York in 1844. It displays a peculiarity of action which, in this case at least, leaves no doubt that the hinder parts were intended to be those of a dog. All antiquaries of any experience know the great number
of obscene subjects which are met with among the fine red pottery which is termed Samian ware, found so abundantly in all Roman sites in our island. They represent erotic scenes in every sense of the word, promiscuous intercourse between the sexes, even vices contrary to nature, with figures of Priapus, and phallic emblems. We give as an example one of the less exceptional scenes of this description, copied from a Samian bowl found in Cannon Street, London, in 1828. 14 The lamps, chiefly of earthenware, form another class of objects on which such scenes are frequently portrayed, and to which broadly phallic forms are sometimes given. One of these phallic lamps is here represented, on the same plate with the bowl of Samian ware just described. 15 It is hardly necessary to explain the subject represented by this lamp, which was found in London a few years ago.
All this obscene pottery must be regarded, no doubt, as a proof of a great amount of dissoluteness in the morals of Roman society in Britain, but it is evidence of something more. It is hardly likely that such objects could be in common use at the family table; and we are led to suppose that they were employed on special occasions, festivals, perhaps, connected with the licentious worship of which we are
speaking, and such as those described in such strong terms in the satires of Juvenal. But monuments are found in this island which bear still more direct evidence to the existence of the worship of Priapus during the Roman period.
In the parish of Adel, in Yorkshire, are considerable traces of a Roman station, which appears to have been a place of some importance, and which certainly possessed temples. On the site of these were found altars, and other stones with inscriptions, which, after being long preserved in an outhouse of the rectory at Adel, are now deposited in the museum of the Philosophical Society at Leeds. One of the most curious of these, which we have here engraved for the first time, 16 appears to be a votive offering to Priapus, who seems to be addressed under the name of Mentula. It is a rough, unsquared stone, which has been selected for possessing a tolerably flat and smooth surface; and the figure and letters were made with a rude implement, and by an unskilled workman, who was evidently unable to cut a continuous smooth line. The middle of the stone is occupied by the figure of a phallus, and round it we read very distinctly the words:--
[paragraph continues] The author of the inscription may have been an ignorant Latinist as well as unskilful sculptor, and perhaps mistook the ligulated letters, overlooking the limb which would make the L stand for VL, and giving A for AE. It would then read Priminus Mentalæ, Priminus to Mentula (the object personified), and it may have been a votive offering from some individual named Priminus, who was in want of an heir, or laboured under some sexual infirmity, to Priapus, whose assistance he sought. Another interpretation has been suggested, on the supposition that Mentla, or perhaps (the L being designed for IL ligulated) Mentila or Mentilla, might be the name of a female joined with her husband in this offering for their common good. The former of these interpretations seems, however, to be the most probable. This monument belongs probably to rather a late date in the Roman period. Another ex voto of the same class was found at Westerwood Fort in Scotland, one of the Roman fortresses on the wall of Antoninus. This monument 17 consisted of a square slab of stone, in the middle of which was a phallus, and under it the words EX : VOTO. Above were the letters
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PHALLIC MONUMENTS FOUND IN SCOTLAND
XAN, meaning, perhaps, that the offerer had laboured ten years under the grievance of which he sought redress from Priapus. We may point also to a phallic monument of another kind, which reminds us in some degree of the finer sculptures at Nîmes. At Housesteads, in Northumberland, are seen the extensive and imposing remains of one of the Roman stations on the Wall of Hadrian named Borcovicus. The walls of the entrance gateways are especially well preserved, and on that of the guard-house attached to one of them, is a slab of stone presenting the figure given in our plate IV, fig. 3. It is a rude delineation of a phallus with the legs of a fowl, and reminds us of some of the monuments in France and Italy previously described. These phallic images were no doubt exposed in such situations because they were supposed to exercise a protective influence over the locality, or over the building, and the individual who looked upon the figure believed himself safe, during that day at least, from evil influences of various descriptions. They are found, we believe, in some other Roman stations, in a similar position to that of the phallus at Housesteads.
Although the worship of which we are treating prevailed so extensively among the Romans and throughout the Roman provinces, it was far from being peculiar to them, for the same superstition
formed part of the religion of the Teutonic race, and was carried with that race wherever it settled. The Teutonic god, who answered to the Roman Priapus, was called, in Anglo-Saxon, Fréa, in Old Norse, Freyr, and, in Old German, Fro. Among the Swedes, the principal seat of his worship was at Upsala, and Adam of Bremen, who lived in the eleventh century, when paganism still retained its hold on the north, in describing the forms under which the gods were there represented, tells us that "the third of the gods at Upsala was Fricco [another form of the name], who bestowed on mortals peace and pleasure, and who was represented with an immense priapus;" and he adds that, at the celebration of marriages, they offered sacrifice to Fricco. This god, indeed, like the Priapus of the Romans, presided over generation and fertility, either of animal life or of the produce of the earth, and was invoked accordingly. Ihre, in his Glossarium Sueco-Gothicum, mentions objects of antiquity dug up in the north of Europe, which clearly prove the prevalence of phallic rites. To this deity, or to his female representative of the same name, the Teutonic Venus, Friga, the fifth day of the week was dedicated, and on that account received its name, in Anglo-Saxon, Frige-dæg, and in modern English, Friday. Frigedæg appears to have been a name sometimes given in Anglo-Saxon to Frea himself; in
a charter of the date of 959, printed in Kemble's Codex Diplomaticus, one of the marks on a boundary-line of land is Frigedæges-Tréow, meaning apparently Frea's tree, which was probably a tree dedicated to that god, and the scene of Priapic rites. There is a place called Fridaythorpe in Yorkshire, and Friston, a name which occurs in several parts of England, means, probably, the stone of Frea or of Friga; and we seem justified in supposing that this and other names commencing with the syllable Fri or Fry, are so many monuments of the existence of the phallic worship among our Anglo-Saxon forefathers. Two customs cherished among our old English popular superstitions are believed to have been derived from this worship, the need-fires, and the procession of the boar's head at the Christmas festivities. The former were fires kindled at the period of the summer solstice, and were certainly in their origin religious observances. The boar was intimately connected with the worship of Frea. 18
From our want of a more intimate knowledge of this part of Teutonic paganism, we are unable to decide whether some of the superstitious practices of the middle ages were derived from the Romans or from the peoples who established themselves in the
provinces after the overthrow of the western empire; but in Italy and in Gaul (the southern parts especially), where the Roman institutions and sentiments continued with more persistence to hold their influence, it was the phallic worship of the Romans which, gradually modified in its forms, was thus preserved, and, though the records of such a worship are naturally accidental and imperfect, yet we can distinctly trace its existence to a very late period. Thus, we have clear evidence that the phallus, in its simple form, was worshipped by the mediæval Christians, and that the forms of Christian prayer and invocation were actually addressed to it. One name of the male organ among the Romans was fascinum; it was under this name that it was suspended round the necks of women and children, and under this name especially it was supposed to possess magical influences which not only acted upon others, but defended those who were under its protection from magical or other evil influences from without. Hence are derived the words to fascinate and fascination. The word is used by Horace, and especially in the epigrams of the Priapeia, which may be considered in some degree as the exponents of the popular creed in these matters. Thus we have in one of these epigrams the lines,--
"Placet, Priape? qui sub arboris coma
Soles, sacrum revincte pampino caput,
Ruber sedere cum rebente fascino."
Priap. Carm. lxxxiv.
It seems probable that this had become the popular, or vulgar, word for the phallus, at least taken in this point of view, at the close of the Roman power, for the first very distinct traces of its worship which we find afterwards introduce it under this name, which subsequently took in French the form fesne. The mediæval worship of the fascinum is first spoken of in the eighth century. An ecclesiastical tract entitled Judicia Sacerdotalia de Criminibus, which is ascribed to the end of that century, directs that "if any one has performed incantation to the fascinum, or any incantation whatever, except any one who chaunts the Creed or the Lord's Prayer, let him do penance on bread and water during three lents." An act of the council of Châlons, held in the ninth century, prohibits the same practice almost in the same words; and Burchardus repeats it again in the twelfth century, 19 a proof of the continued existence of this worship. That it was in full force long after this is proved by the statutes of the synod of Mans, held in 1247, which enjoin similarly the punishment for him "who has sinned to the fascinum, or has performed
any incantations, except the creed, the pater noster, or other canonical prayer." This same provision was adopted and renewed in the statutes of the synod of Tours, held in 1396, in which, as they were published in French, the Latin fascinum is represented by the French fesne. The fascinum to which such worship was directed must have been something more than a small amulet.
7:1 There appears to be a chance of this worship being claimed for a very early period in the history of the human race. It has been recently stated in the "Moniteur," that, in the province of Venice, in Italy, excavations in a bone-cave have brought to light, beneath ten feet of stalagmite, bones of animals, mostly postertiary, of the usual description found in such places, flint implements, with a needle of bone having an eye and point, and a plate of an argillaceous compound, on which was scratched a rude drawing of a phallus.--Moniteur, Jan. 1865.
9:2 The second edition of this work, published in 1825, is by much the best, and is considerably enlarged from the first.
13:3 Plate II, Fig. 1.
13:4 See our Plate II, Fig. 2.
14:5 The writer of the text to the Musée Secret supposes that this circumstance has some reference to the double meaning given to the Greek word κύων, which was used for the generative organ.
14:6 See Auguste Pelet, Catalogue du Musée de Nîmes.
14:7 Plate II, Fig. 3.
14:8 A French antiquary has given an emblematical interpretation of this figure. "Perhaps," he says, "it signifies the empire of woman extending over the three ages of man; on youth, characterized by the bell; on the age of vigour, the ardour of which she restrains; and on old age, which she sustains." This is perhaps more ingenious than convincing.
17:9 See our Plate III, Fig. 3.
18:10 See Plate II, Fig. 4.
18:11 Two Roman towns, Castra Vetera and Colonia Trajana, stood within no great distance of Xanten, and Ph. Houben, a "notartius" of this town, formed a private museum of antiquities found there, and in 1839, published engravings of them, with a text by Dr. Franz Fiedler. The erotic objects form a separate work under the title, Antike erotische Bildwerke in Houbens Antiquarium zu Xanten.
19:12 See Plate I, Fig. 3.
19:13 Plate I, Fig. 4.
20:14 Plate I, Fig. 1.
20:15 Plate I, Fig. 2.
21:16 Plate IV, Fig. 1.
22:17 See Plate IV, Fig. 2. Horseley, who engraved this monument in his Brittania Romana, Scotland, fig. xix. has inserted a fig-leaf in place of the phallus, but with slight indications of the form of the object it was intended to conceal. We are not aware if this monument is still in existence.
27:18 See Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, p. 139, first edition.
28:19 D. Burchardi Decretorum libri, lib. x, c 49.