Who was the God Priapus?

Who was the Greek God Priapus?

Priapus is a character from Greek mythology, son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, for others of Aphrodite and Hermes, or Ares, or Adonis or Zeus. Hera, jealous of her husband, retaliated by giving the boy a grotesque appearance and a huge phallus.

Priapus Phallus Art on Amazon
Priapus Phallus Art

The cult of Priapus dates back to the time of Alexander the Great, coming from the Hellespont or Propontis, a symbol of the masculine sexual force and the fertility of nature. He was expelled from Olympus because he was irrepressible. In fact, when he was drunk he tried to rape the goddess Vesta. Even the donkey, symbol of lust, brayed against him to make him escape.

There were several abuses with the Goddesses, from Hephaestus who tried to rape Athena, Pluto who succeeded with Persephone, Zeus in Metis, etc. Priapus represented the wild, instinctive eros, that which the rational mind had found so difficult to master, not only as indiscriminate sex, but also as the freedom to perceive one’s own feelings. The feeling towards women was a strongly repressed instinct. both in Greece and in Rome, and especially in the republican era.

Let us not forget that even the wise Aristotle maintained that the generative principle resided exclusively in man. According to him, women were sterile, they received the male seed but did not participate in fertilization.


Who was the Greek God Priapus?
Who was the Greek God Priapus?

What were the Priapus festivities like in ancient Greece?

The Priapus festivities, known as the Priapeia, were celebratory events dedicated to the worship of Priapus in ancient Greece. Priapus was a fertility deity associated with gardens, livestock, and male virility. The exact details of the Priapus festivities vary based on regional and local customs, but they generally involved rituals and activities aimed at invoking the blessings of Priapus for fertility and abundance.

During the Priapus festivities, participants would gather in gardens, orchards, or other outdoor settings, as Priapus was closely associated with agriculture and the growth of plants. The festivities often included the following elements:

Offerings and sacrifices

People would bring offerings of fruits, flowers, wine, and other agricultural products to honor Priapus. These offerings were placed at shrines or Statues dedicated to Priapus, often located in gardens or fields.


Processions and dances

Processions would take place, with participants carrying phallic symbols or statues of Priapus. These processions were accompanied by music, dancing, and singing, creating a festive atmosphere.

Sexual humor and innuendo

The Priapus festivities were known for their lighthearted and humorous nature, often involving sexual jokes and bawdy humor. Phallic symbols, such as representations of Priapus or erect phalluses, were prominently displayed and used as a symbol of fertility and good fortune.

Fertility rituals

The festivities often included rituals aimed at promoting fertility in crops, livestock, and human reproduction. These rituals could involve dances, chants, or symbolic acts performed in the presence of Priapus.

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Feasting and merriment

:The Priapus festivities were occasions for communal feasting and socializing. People would gather to share food and drink, celebrating abundance and fertility.

The Priapus festivities were seen as a way to ensure the prosperity of crops, livestock, and human reproduction through the blessings of Priapus. They provided an opportunity for people to come together, enjoy mirthful celebrations, and express their hopes for a bountiful harvest and successful reproduction.

It’s important to note that the Priapus festivities were not widely documented, and the available information comes from scattered references in ancient texts and art. The exact practices and customs may have varied across different regions and over time.

Detail of Priapus Mosaic in the Roman villa of Bobadilla
Detail of Priapus Mosaic in the Roman villa of Bobadilla

The Phalophories

The phallophorias were ceremonies in honor of Dionysus in which huge wooden phalluses were carried in procession, a symbol of fertility.
A description of this procession can be found in a fragment of a play by Semos of Delos (late 3rd century BC), quoted by Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae, XIV, 622b):

“Stand back, make room for the god; in fact the god wills
pass through you erect and swollen.”

ἀνάγετ᾽, εὐρυχωρίαν ποιεῖτε τῷ θεῷ• θέλει γὰρ
[ὁ θεὸς] ὀρθὸς ἐσφυδωμένος
διὰ μέσου βαδίζειν.

The Phalophories
The Phalophories

In the image, detail of the crater by the Painter of Pan (5th century BC), Altes Museum, Berlin.

The Phalophories and the donkeys

The donkey, because of the importance it had in peasant life, and because of the analogy of its immeasurable limbs, was an important animal. The myth tells that Priapus stalked the sleeping nymph Lotis, but the braying of a donkey woke the nymph, preventing her from mating. It was difficult for the nymph to have such a heavy sleeper like her not to notice the embrace.

But the myth claims that God, in revenge, demanded the annual sacrifice of a donkey. In reality, the sacrificed animal represented an aspect of divinity itself in earlier times. In short, he was a very proud god of his sex:

Priapus Phallus Art
Priapus Phallus Art

Priapus and the Sexual Instinct

Priapus is the distorted instinct of male power: the overestimation of the phallus. In this party called Phalophories, the cult was reconnected with the Dionysian rites and orgies, which were intoxications of nature, not of sex, or not in the power of sex, but as an expression of nature, therefore an impersonal power. The fact that the God was so ugly and deformed reduced the sacred side, returning it to the earthly level.

His cult was associated with the agricultural world and the protection of flocks, fish, bees and orchards. In fact, phallic-shaped memorial stones were often used to delineate agricultural land. The tradition continued despite Christianity. Even today we find phallic stones in Italy, in the countryside of Sardinia, Puglia and Basilicata or in the inland areas of Spain, Greece and Macedonia.

Priapus protector of gardens and to scare away thieves

Beloved by women as a promoter of fertility, the god was later exiled from Lampsasco, his hometown, at the behest of jealous husbands. The gods intervened, leaving the men of the city impotent, so Priapus was remembered and venerated as the god of gardens, to scare away thieves and the evil eye, and promote the fertility of the garden.


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How were the festivities of Priapus in the Roman Empire?

Priapus festivities were also celebrated in ancient Rome, where Priapus was considered a god of fertility and sexuality. Although the Roman festivals may have had some similarities to the Greek celebrations, few detailed records exist of Priapus’s specific festivals in Rome.

However, here are some general aspects related to the festivities of Priapus in ancient Rome:

The Lupercales

One of the Roman festivities related to fertility and sexuality is the celebration of the Lupercalia, which took place every year on February 15. During these festivities, young priests called luperci would walk the streets of Rome, naked or semi-naked, whipping people with leather thongs to purify and purge the city of evil spirits and promote fertility. Although not directly related to Priapus, there may have been similar elements to these festivities and a symbolic connection to fertility.

Statues and cult of Priapus

In Rome, statues were erected and altars were set up in honor of Priapus. These depictions of the god featured Priapus with prominent phallic attributes, as he was seen as a symbol of virility and fertility. Rituals and offerings are believed to have been performed at these places of worship at different times of the year to invoke Priapus’ blessing and protection.

artistic and literary representations

The figure of Priapus was also the object of artistic and literary representations in ancient Rome. Numerous images and statues of Priapus were found in different contexts and at various Roman archaeological sites. Additionally, Roman poets and writers mentioned Priapus in their works, often referencing his phallic aspect and his association with fertility


How was the cult of Priapus in ancient Pompeii?

Priapus, as a deity of fertility and sexuality, was also worshiped in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, which was destroyed and buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Various depictions of Priapus have been found in Pompeii, suggesting that he was revered in the city. Here are some references to Priapus in Pompeii:

Statues and frescoes:Statues and frescoes depicting Priapus were discovered in Pompeii. These depictions showed Priapus as a male figure with prominent phallic attributes and a smiling expression. Priapus statues were often found in gardens and areas dedicated to fertility.

Inscriptions and Graffiti: Inscriptions and graffiti have been found on the walls of Pompeii that mention Priapus. These inscriptions were often related to fertility, protection, and good luck. Some of these inscriptions were found in private homes, suggesting that Priapus was also worshiped in the domestic sphere.

Amulets and votive objects: Amulets and votive objects related to Priapus have been discovered in Pompeii. These objects, such as small phallus-shaped statues or amulets, were used as symbols of protection and fertility.

Priapus in Pompeii
Priapus in Pompeii

Where were the ancient temples of Priapus located?

Temples dedicated to Priapus were not as common as the main deities in ancient Rome and Greece. However, some places are known where temples or altars were erected in honor of Priapus. Here are some notable locations:

Lampsaco (present-day Lapseki, Turkey): An ancient Greek city located in the Troad region near the Dardanelles Strait, Lampsaco was famous for its worship of Priapus. It is believed that there was a temple dedicated to Priapus in this city.

Tibur (now Tivoli, Italy): In Tibur, a city located near Rome, a statue of Priapus was found in a Roman villa. Although no specific temple in this location is known, the presence of the statue suggests the veneration of Priapus in the region.

Rome (Italy): In Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, no specific temple dedicated to Priapus has been identified. However, there are mentions of altars or statues of Priapus in different contexts in the city.

Were there paintings of Priapus in the Renaissance?

During the Renaissance, the theme of Priapus and his phallic iconography was addressed by some artists, although it was not a dominant theme in the art of the time. Here are some prominent references to Priapus in Renaissance paintings:

Titian’s “Metamorphoses”: In his series of paintings based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Titian included a depiction of Priapus. In the painting titled “Bacchus and Ariadne,” Priapus can be seen alongside other mythological figures.

“Spring” by Sandro Botticelli: In this famous painting, Botticelli included a female figure resembling a nymph holding a staff with a phallic representation in her hand. This figure has been interpreted as a possible allusion to Priapus and his association with fertility.

“The Judgment of Paris” by Lucas Cranach the Elder: In this painting, Cranach the Elder included Priapus in the scene of the judgment of Paris. Priapus appears as a figure in the foreground, bearing the characteristic phallic attribute of himself.

“The Sacrifice to Priapus Francisco Goya” : This Romanticism mythological masterpiece titled, The Sacrifice to Priapus is made by the famous painter, Francisco Goya using oil on canvas in 1771. Francisco Jos de Goya y Lucientes was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker regarded both as the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns. Goya was a court painter to the Spanish Crown, and through his works was both a commentator on and chronicler of his era.


“Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus”, c.1635 (oil on canvas) Nicolas Poussin


Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus, c.1635 (oil on canvas) 
Hymenaios Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus, c.1635 (oil on canvas)

Nicolas Poussin

It is important to note that, in many of these representations, the figure of Priapus was not portrayed as an object of religious worship, but rather as a mythological or allegorical figure related to sexuality and fertility.

Are there sculptures of the god Priapus today?

There are sculptures and representations of Priapus that have survived to the present day. These sculptures are usually from ancient times, such as the Roman period, and can be found in museums, private collections, and archaeological sites.

Some of the most famous Priapus sculptures are:

Statue of Priapus from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Italy): This sculpture, dated to the 1st century AD, shows Priapus standing, with a robust male figure and a prominent phallus. The statue is made of white marble and is believed to come from the city of Pompeii.

Louvre Museum Priapus Statue (France): This sculpture of Priapus, also dated to the 1st century AD, shows the god in a seated position, with an obese figure and a disproportionately large phallus. The sculpture is made of marble and is believed to have been found in Rome.

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Priapus statues in the British Museum (UK): The British Museum houses several statues of Priapus from different periods and styles. These sculptures show Priapus in different poses and expressions, some of them more humorous and cartoonish.

In addition to these sculptures, there are other representations of Priapus in paintings, mosaics, and other art objects that have survived to this day. These works of art give us an insight into how Priapus was depicted and venerated in ancient times.

It should be noted that the sculptures and representations of Priapus are considered works of historical and cultural art, and their exhibition and study is carried out in the context of their artistic and historical importance, rather than as an object of religious worship.

Where are there Priapus Mosaics Today?

There are some Priapus mosaics preserved in different places around the world, especially in archaeological sites and museums. Here are some known locations where Priapus mosaics can be found:

Where are there Priapus Mosaics Today?
Where are there Priapus Mosaics Today?

Villa Romana del Casale (Sicily, Italy): This Roman villa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features a series of well-preserved mosaics depicting Priapus. One of the most outstanding mosaics shows Priapus with his characteristic erect phallus.

National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Italy): In addition to the statue of Priapus mentioned above, the museum houses a collection of Roman mosaics depicting mythological and everyday life scenes, which also include Priapus.

Museo de Arqueología de Cádiz (Spain): This museum exhibits several Roman mosaics found in the ancient city of Gades (present-day Cádiz). Among them are some mosaics with representations of Priapus.

Archaeological Museum of Aquileia (Italy): Aquileia, in northern Italy, was an ancient Roman city. The local museum displays Roman mosaics found in the area, some of which include Priapus.

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How is Priapus culture in the XX and XXI century?

The cult of Priapus, as a formal and widespread religious practice, did not last until the 20th century. However, the myth and the figure of Priapus have continued to influence popular culture and art throughout the centuries, including the 20th century. In contemporary culture, Priapus is often associated with sexuality, humor, and fertility, and has appeared in a variety of contexts, including art, literature, music, and film.

In modern and contemporary art, works have been created that represent Priapus or are inspired by her figure. Artists such as Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann have created images and sculptures that incorporate phallic elements or references to Priapus.


Who was the Greek God Priapus?
Who was the Greek God Priapus?

In literature, Priapus has been mentioned or alluded to in modern literary works and poetry. For example, the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca included references to Priapus in some of his poems, using the figure of the god as a symbol of sensuality and erotic passion.

In music, Priapo has also been referenced in songs and albums. For example, the British band Blur included a song called “Villa Rosie” on their 1994 album “Parklife”, which alludes to the statue of Priapus known as “Rosie” in the Alton Towers English theme park.

In the cinema, the figure of Priapus has been used in films and referenced in dialogues and scenes. Sometimes Priapus is presented as a symbol of sexuality and desire in comic or satirical contexts.


Was there a presence of the cult of Priapus in the cinema?

The figure of Priapus and its phallic symbolism has been addressed in some films in a humorous, satirical or symbolic way. Here are some notable mentions of Priapus in the movies:

“Caligula” (1979): This film, directed by Tinto Brass and produced by Bob Guccione, includes a scene showing a procession in honor of Priapus. The scene portrays the excessive decadence and perversion of the Roman emperor Caligula and presents a burlesque representation of the cult of Priapus.


“The Big Lebowski” (1998): In this Coen brothers comedy, there is a scene in which Julianne Moore’s character, Maude Lebowski, is an artist performing a Priapus-inspired stage performance. The scene plays satirically with the phallic symbolism associated with Priapus.


“Eyes Wide Shut” (1999): In this Stanley Kubrick film, Priapus is referenced in a scene where Nicole Kidman’s character mentions the “Priapo cult” in conversation. The mention of Priapus in this erotic and mysterious film is used as a symbolic element alluding to sexuality.


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