Title of Oral/Poster Presentation

The Character of the Phallus: An Insight to Roman beliefs of Sexuality

Presenter Information

Stephanie Southwick-HickeyFollow

Class

Article

Department

Art

Faculty Mentor

Alexa Sand

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Abstract

My research focuses on the dual nature of the phallus as a motif during antiquity. The consistent popularity of the phallus as decorative design is widespread throughout the Italian peninsula, from the Mediterranean, to Roman England. The forms I am investigating exist largely between the second and first centuries BCE in Rome. Here I focus on the semi-religious nature of the phallus during the height of the Roman Empire. The phallus was known as a good luck charm, noted for its evil-warding properties and was associated with bringing good fortune. Also within the context of 1st century Rome, the phallus was synonymous with the threat of assault, often appearing on statues and plaques, threatening any would-be thieves or marauders. These contradictory facets of the phallus during this time period are best illustrated by phallic bronze wind chimes (tintinnabulae), which were a common adornment in Roman homes. I focus specifically on the Tintinnabulum in the Form of an Ithyphallic Gladiator and the Winged Bronze Phallus with Bells. In my research, I give historical and cultural context of these objects, as well as primary source documents and visual analysis addressing form and iconography. The character of the Roman phallus is multifaceted; there is a semi-religious superstition associated with the phallus, and its perceived luck-bringing and evil-warding effects. A more primal, violent side counters the apotropaic function of the phallus: While fertility and good fortune are welcomed, a territorial and violent aspect of the phallus exists. The apotropaic function of the phallus was deeply entrenched in the belief system of the Romans, as was a conflicting view of the phallus. While the superstitious function of phallic imagery was a protection to those who bore it, there also loomed the threat of punishment by rape and humiliation.The objects that I focus on in my research depict a gladiator at war with himself, and a phallus that is devoid of an owner. While the apotropaic function is present in both of these works, so is an undercurrent of anxiety and unease about the power of sexuality. In both of these wind chimes, there are parallels between sexuality and animal-like urges, barely controlled by its' owner, or in the case of the Winged Phallus, not controlled at all.The juxtaposition of beliefs is heavily dependent upon context: The Roman phallus was both protective and a threat: A good luck charm and something to be wary of.

Start Date

4-9-2015 9:00 AM

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Apr 9th, 9:00 AM

The Character of the Phallus: An Insight to Roman beliefs of Sexuality

My research focuses on the dual nature of the phallus as a motif during antiquity. The consistent popularity of the phallus as decorative design is widespread throughout the Italian peninsula, from the Mediterranean, to Roman England. The forms I am investigating exist largely between the second and first centuries BCE in Rome. Here I focus on the semi-religious nature of the phallus during the height of the Roman Empire. The phallus was known as a good luck charm, noted for its evil-warding properties and was associated with bringing good fortune. Also within the context of 1st century Rome, the phallus was synonymous with the threat of assault, often appearing on statues and plaques, threatening any would-be thieves or marauders. These contradictory facets of the phallus during this time period are best illustrated by phallic bronze wind chimes (tintinnabulae), which were a common adornment in Roman homes. I focus specifically on the Tintinnabulum in the Form of an Ithyphallic Gladiator and the Winged Bronze Phallus with Bells. In my research, I give historical and cultural context of these objects, as well as primary source documents and visual analysis addressing form and iconography. The character of the Roman phallus is multifaceted; there is a semi-religious superstition associated with the phallus, and its perceived luck-bringing and evil-warding effects. A more primal, violent side counters the apotropaic function of the phallus: While fertility and good fortune are welcomed, a territorial and violent aspect of the phallus exists. The apotropaic function of the phallus was deeply entrenched in the belief system of the Romans, as was a conflicting view of the phallus. While the superstitious function of phallic imagery was a protection to those who bore it, there also loomed the threat of punishment by rape and humiliation.The objects that I focus on in my research depict a gladiator at war with himself, and a phallus that is devoid of an owner. While the apotropaic function is present in both of these works, so is an undercurrent of anxiety and unease about the power of sexuality. In both of these wind chimes, there are parallels between sexuality and animal-like urges, barely controlled by its' owner, or in the case of the Winged Phallus, not controlled at all.The juxtaposition of beliefs is heavily dependent upon context: The Roman phallus was both protective and a threat: A good luck charm and something to be wary of.