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Priapus, mounted and unmounted. 4322: Priape, dit de Rivery, 2e. moitié du 1er. siècle après J.C. Musée de Picardie, Amiens.

Priapus is a god of fertility, protector of horticulture and viticulture. His statue, holding a wooden sickle in his hand, was used in the Roman gardens as scarecrow, and his enormous penis as a threat against thieves.

Priapus' attribute

This god is mainly known for his huge virile member, and the size of it is so enormous that it has been called "column", "twelve-inch pole", "cypress", "spear", "pyramid", and many other names of the same kind referring to the dimensions of his penis. And just as Zeus shows his thunderbolt, Poseidon his trident, Athena her spear, Apollo his golden arrows, Hermes his caduceus, Dionysus 2 his thyrsus, Heracles 1 his club, so Priapus cannot but proudly exhibit his penis, which best represents him, and without which he is weaponless. This is the reason why his privy parts are always shameless displayed in erection.

Matter of size

Some believe that the size of the male sexual organ has little or no relevance, but this lustful god has been assumed to think that the greatest advantage with his enormous penis is that no female can be too roomy for him. When a certain ass once had a contest with Priapus on the matter of the size of their sexual organs, the beast was defeated by the god, and killed by him. Others say that the ass was killed for a different reason; they tell that after a party in the countryside, Priapus tried to ravish the nymph Lotis, and that when everybody was asleep after feasting and drinking, Priapus approached her silently. But when he was close to fulfil his wish, the saddle-ass of Silenus gave out an ill-timed roar, which made the nymph to start up. Lotis pushed off Priapus and fled, but the only way to escape him was to turn into the flower called lotus. For having caused him to lose this girl, Priapus killed Silenus' ass, and that is why in Lampsacus, a city on the Hellespont in northwestern Asia Minor where he was more revered than any other god, they used to sacrifice this animal to the god.

Protector of gardens

On account of the reproductive function of the virile member, Priapus has been regarded as a promoter of fertility , a protector of domestic animals, and of all garden produce. He has been honoured not only in cities and temples, but also in the countryside, where his statue served as scarecrow, watching over vineyards and gardens, and protecting them against theft. The Romans could say:

"If haply one has seen my Cato's house,
His shingles stained with red,
His garden over which Priapus watched:
(Suetonius, On Grammarians XI).


"A bowl of milk, Priapus, and these cakes, are all you can expect year by year; the garden you watch is poor …" (Virgil, Eclogues 7.33).


"Let there be gardens fragrant with saffron flowers to invite them, and let the watchman against thieves and birds, guardian Priapus, lord of the Hellespont, protect them with his willow hook." (Virgil, Georgics 4.111).


Priapus. 7214: Priapo. Pompei, casa dei Vettii (VI 15,1), fauces IV stile. National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

Threats against thieves

As a watcher Priapus warns thieves and transgressors, threatening to sodomise or to sexually penalize in any other way whoever dares to steal the garden's greens and fruits (follow epigrams collected by Smithers & Burton in Priapeia):

"I warn you, my lad, you will be sodomised; you, my girl, I shall futter; for the thief who is bearded, a third punishment remains."


"… If I do seize you … you shall be so stretched that you will think your anus never had any wrinkles."


"He who shall plunder with dishonest hand the little field committed to my charge, shall feel me to be no eunuch …"


"Why do you, watchman, hinder the thief from coming to me? Let him approach: he will return more 'open'!"


"If a woman, man, or boy, thieve from me, she shall pay me with coynte, that with his mouth, this with arse."


"O, wayfarer, thou shalt fear this god and hold thy hand high: this is worth thy while, for lo! there stands ready thy cross, the phallus …" (Virgil, Priapea 2.16).

Yet an obscenity

And this god's obscenities were further developed by the orchards' owners, who could threaten with the statue itself:

"This staff of office, which severed from the tree, can now shoot forth no verdure; sceptre which pathic maidens crave, and some kings love to hold; to which notorious paederasts give kisses; shall go right into the very bowels of the thief, as far as the hair and the bag of balls." (Epigram in Priapeia, collected by Smithers & Burton).

Priapus and Dionysus 2

Priapus has been called son of Dionysus 2, and sometimes he has even been identified with the latter. Some believe that the connection between these two gods depends on wine; for, they say, when men are under the influence of this divine beverage, they become inclined to the pleasures of love. Others have said, however, that the name Priapus was at some point in the past used to denote the sexual organ of males. In any case, this generative member, through being the cause of the continued existence of human beings, has won immortal honour through Priapus.

Opinion of the Egyptians

The Egyptians say that the TITANS once conspired against Osiris 1 and slew him, dividing his body into equal parts among themselves. Now, the sexual organ they threw into the river, no one among them being interested in it. The Egyptians also believed that Osiris 1's wife Isis detected the murderers, and after slaying them, put the pieces together into the shape of a human body, giving them to the priests to pay Osiris 1 the honours of a god. But as she had failed to recover the sexual organ, she instructed the priests to set it up in their temples in an erect position. And this, some think, explains the origin of this god.

Famous in later times

It has also been said that Priapus, who was unknown to the most ancient poets, or not mentioned by them, was declared at god only in later (Roman) times. He was particularly honoured in the city of Priapus in the Troad, and it is said that his worship was probably transferred there from Orneae, a city west of Mycenae. Other phallic deities such as Attic Orthanes, Conisalus, and Tychon, resemble Priapus.


Parentage (three versions)

Hermes & unknown

Dionysus 2 & Nymph 21

Related sections Priapus in GROUPS: HERMES' OFFSPRING 

Dio.4.6.1; Hyg.Ast.2.23; Hyg.Fab.160; Ov.Fast.1.415ff., 6.335ff.; Pau.9.31.2; Strab.8.6.24, 13.1.12.