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Holy Ancient Tight Foreskins!


Poor Priapus had it bad.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the first bits of porn I wanked over was in the news this week. A fresco from Pompeii of the Greek god of fertility Priapus weighing his mythologically-sized penis in a pair of scales against a pile of gold.


My teenage priapic abuse of Priapus was made possible as the result of a trip to the Royal Academy in London to see an exhibition of Pompeii treasures. Before the Internet, the brochure for such a cultural event, bought for you by parents keen to interest you in art and history, could provide a regular diversion.

Priapus hit the headlines because an Italian doctor called Francesco Maria Galassi has decided that Priapus is afflicted with a particularly severe case of phimosis -- a tightness of the foreskin which prevents it being fully pulled back over the glans. The godhead's nobhead is completely enclosed by his foreskin despite a massive stonk-on.

"The disproportionate virile member is distinctively characterized by a patent phimosis, more specifically a shut phimosis," Francesco Maria Galassi told Discovery News. "This condition presents different grades of severity, and in this specific case appears to be of the highest grade, in which there is no skin retractability on the glans," Galassi said.

This struck me as odd for a couple of reasons. The first is that I had, as a young uncircumcised teen, a mild case of phimosis -- until I started wanking over Priapus. After a few sessions with the god of fertility, my foreskin slid backwards and forwards perfectly.

The second is that the most obvious explanation for Priapus' foreskin covering his glans is not that he is suffering from some pathology that a contemporary Italian doctor is perhaps a bit obsessed with and sees everywhere, but the well-established fact that the Ancient Greeks, who invented Priapus, just thought an exposed glans was really icky.

Although they would exercise naked, the Greeks thought flashing their glans was the pinnacle of bad taste and they would often "infibulate" their John Thomases, drawing the foreskin forwards over the glans, and then tying it closed with string or clasping it shut with a circular safety-pin-like instrument.

I know this because I read David M. Friedman's "fascinating" (derived from "fascinatus," Latin for phallic charm) examination of the penis and the changing and, er, pointed meanings and role it has played in Western culture: A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis. And I paid rather more attention to the text than I did in the Pompeii exhibition catalogue.

Priapus and lucky charms apart, the Greeks also generally disliked large members, considering dainty ones desirable. Aristotle gave this Tinymeat tendency a scientific basis, explaining that a small penis is better for conception because semen cools down in a large one, becoming "not generative."

Romans saw the penis as a sacrosanct weapon of the Roman State -- glans is also Latin for "bullet." When launched by slings, Roman bullets often had lurid inscriptions written on them comparing their use to acts of rape (reminiscent of the slogans "TAKE THIS, FAGGOTS!" daubed on U.S. bombs and missiles due to be launched on the Taliban, et al).

Populating the legions was also a duty of a Roman: Augustus Caesar penalized bachelors and rewarded fatherhood. Romans celebrated a son's first ejaculation as part of a state holiday, the Liberalia. You can imagine the proud father: "Well done, my son! No, don't put them in the washer -- your mum's gonna show them to the neighbors and then frame them!"

Things got even stranger with the Christians. Jesus's organ -- since it was never used and was itself the product of a penisless birth -- was as holy as all others were damned and full of original sin. His foreskin or prepuce became a holy relic.

Hence the taste test, a medieval version of the Pepsi Challenge: chewing the shrivelled leather to determine whether it was wholly or partly human. At Communion, Saint Agnes imagined she was swallowing the Holy Prepuce (with no gag reflex).

Given the vast number of his foreskins in circulation in the Middle Ages, it is rather unlikely that Jesus suffered from phimosis.

Mark Simpson is the daddy of the metrosexual, retrosexual & spornosexual. Read more at

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