Seedy Phallus Interpretations.


Account for the different interpretations and impact of phallic symbolism within Greek society reflected by ancient Greek mythology and rituals. 

The phallus was a reoccurring symbol through ancient Greek society with its interpretations used to support a patriarchal society validated by Greek mythology. The phallus evolved from being just a sexual reproductive organ into a symbol of sovereignty, a weapon and a tool to preserve the foundations of a society. A man’s genital also became a reflection upon the individual, supposedly highlighting his status, birth and whether he was civilized or a savage. Finally a man’s phallus became regarded as an agricultural tool and a symbol of fertility. These representations of the phallus are reinforced by the Greeks myths which were a fundamental element to the construction of the ancient Greek society. The significance of the phallus created a civilization based upon phallocracy- a cultural system symoblised by the power of the phallus.

The constant repetition of the phallus throughout Greek culture was a constant reminder of the male dominance of society. It was written within Greek mythology that the image or carving of a phallus could be used to shield against the “evil eye” from hypnotizing an individual. That belief system slowly turned the phallus from just another male limb to a symbol “intended to bring good luck to the beholder.”[1] The fact the phallus was present and linked to most aspect of Greek society acknowledges the importance of it as a symbol (Image 1.) Statues of Hermes with an erect phallus were used as markers of territory between states and to ward away evil spirits and omens. Statues and artworks of phallus were so common that “buildings were surrounded by phallic pillars”[2] and “[Athena] was studded with statues of Gods with their phallus exposed.”[3] The overwhelming presence of the phallus within the public sphere reinforced the fact women were second class citizens and that Greek culture was one which heavily favoured men. Voodoos with erect genitals found near graves and tombstones reveals that the phallus was also involved in black magic rituals and witchcraft. The dolls were a visual representation of a man’s foe, and it attempted to channel hostile spirits recently deceased to “cripple the most significant limb”[4] of the intended target, their genitals.

A man’s phallus was also frequently portrayed as a weapon within Greek art, conveying the strength and authority of manhood. The major Greek gods are often portrayed aiming their designated weapons towards the crotch of their sexual targets. Zeus brandished a thunderbolt or a scepter, Poseidon, his trident; and Hermes, his caduceus towards their victims (Image 2.) The phallus and its associations with masculinity are echoed in the mythology of Uranus and Cronus. The sky and earth are not separated until Uranus who locks Gaea in a “perpetual sexual embrace”[5] has his genitals removed. The castration also signifies Uranus’ fall from grace and importance within Greek mythology as his son Cronus steps up and fills his position of authority. Without his genitals Uranus cannot lead his family, the castration was more than just a physical act; it implied that he had lost the “essence of a man’s being.”[6] The symbolism of the phallus extends further than just a sexual organ; it stands as a characteristic necessary to rule.

The deeply embed sexual tension in ancient Greek culture was due to the sexual restriction of women and their complete lack of voice, symbolised by the myths of the Amazon women. The Amazon warriors were defeated by Attic hero Theseus, suggesting that democracy could only thrive if society kept “women’s sexuality properly in check.”[7] The Athenian warriors re often depicted stabbing their weapons into the breast of the Amazon warriors particularly near a nipple. This was done to dramatise the warrior’s “assault on their femininity”[8] and to suggest the sexual conquest of men over women. (Image 3) It was feared “any concession to women would lead to the collapse of social order built by men” thus the repetition and significance of the phallus within Greece society was meant to maintain social order.

A man’s phallus was eventually transformed a general representation of the individual and the shape and size of the genitals were supposed to be a direct reflection on the male carrier. Aristophanes describes the perfect man to be equipped with a “small prick” similarly Aristotle states a smaller penis is more fertile since the seed has to shoot a shorter distance.[9] A large, circumcised penis was a mark of barbarism and savagery; male foreigners are often depicted with larger genitals in Greek artwork and pottery. This is seen in the God; Priapus, whose constant erection was a sign of his uncontrollable lust and large of social etiquette. Fathered by Dionysus or Hermes and born to Aphrodite, this Asiatic God was cursed by Hera to be impotent and ugly highlighted in his satirically large erection. Thus distancing himself from the other noble and more “respectable” Olympian gods in mythology. (Image 4) For a Greek culture which was heavily built upon notions of logic, knowledge and reason, large unsuppressed erections were a sign of a man’s inner primitive nature and something to be shunned by society. In general large sex organs were “considered coarse and ugly and were banished to the domains of abstraction”[10] and rejected by Greek men as redundant and aesthetically repulsive. (Image 5)

Like the Satyrs, Priapus was often mocked in mythology, both were driven by uncontrollable sexual urges however neither could successfully have sexual intercourse. Priapus was disturbed by a donkey whilst trying to rape Lotis and Satyrs fail to have to sex with maenads. Despite the abundance of sexual activity the major male Gods engage in, “the consumption of the rapes and any visible sexual excitement were never shown.”[11] Once again the belief that an erect phallus was a mark of a barbarian, meant gods pursuing their sexual targets are often portrayed just in the pursuit and not actually engaging in sex (Image 6.)

The phallus was also depicted as “the primary source of life”[12] and an agricultural tool necessary for the “harvest” for the next generation. This notion is once again reflected in the Greek mythology of Uranus’ castration. Cronus’ weapon of choice for this act was either a sickle or a scythe,[13] both tools traditionally reserved for the reaping and gathering of crops. This has resulted in slang terms for sexual intercourse such as “to plough” and semen being the seed. The blood from Uranus’ severed phallus created the violent female spirits named the Erinyes and Giants, beings of “enormous strength and violence” whilst the semen and foam created Aphrodite.[14] There is a concerted effort to push male independence and dominance within the reproduction process, males like Uranus can infringe on a major element of female identity; child birth. This belief is reflected in the birth of Athena and the birth of Dionysus, where Zeus performs both the male and female duties in child birth; sexual intercourse and the delivery of the child. The phallus within Greek mythology challenges the significance of “mother earth,” the notion that females are the most essential aspect in the creation of a new generation. To further this point, Hera jealous at Zeus’ abilities to fulfill the role of both sexes, attempts to have a child without a male partner. The result was a crippled Hephaestus who was shortly abandoned by his mother for his disfiguration and rejected from living within Olympia. From a time in history when the male role in “reproduction was not recognized” by Greek culture. Greek mythology tried to reinforce the notion that the phallus was the primary requirement in the continuation of the human species. In general the stories of the Greek gods reflect the “tensions between the sexes” and the disjointed family unit during ancient Greek society. The mythology fundamental to the establishment of Greek culture looks only to acknowledge the importance of the phallus, thus transforming it beyond just another organ.

It is clear that to maintain a strong patriarchal society, the role of women had to be restricted and their sense of identity infringed upon, the Greek mythology serve as a justification for the dominance of men in a public and private sphere. The phallus stood for many different symbols, all of which empowered man and justified their reign within society. From being a good luck charm to a sign to ward off evil, the reoccurring phallus within Greek culture was an attempt by men to preserve the phallocracy. The phallus was also portrayed as a weapon; embed with physical power and in Uranus’ case, a necessity to rule and lead your family. Apart from that a man’s genitals has also evolved to represent an agricultural product, essential in the prolongation of the human species. The Greek mythology serves as a reflection of the culture and as a tool to maintain the pillars of a male dominated society. The phallus, the limb that separates the sexes begins to adopt many associations with power, fertility and strength legitimizing the patriarchy.


[1] Skiiner, B. M., Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture (2005), Oxford, UK., Blackwell Publishing Ltd., p. 194.

[2] Keuls, C. Eva., The Reign of the Phallus (1985), N.Y., Harper & Row, Publishers., p. 6.

[3] Ibid., p.2.

[4] Ibid., p.78.

[5] Powell, B. B., Classical Myth (2009), N. Y., Pearson Education., p. 84.

[6] Keuls, C. Eva., The Reign of the Phallus (1985), N.Y., Harper & Row, Publishers., pp. 78.

[7] Skiiner, B. M., Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture (2005), Oxford, UK., Blackwell Publishing Ltd., p. 38.

[8] Keuls, C. Eva., The Reign of the Phallus (1985), N.Y., Harper & Row, Publishers., pp. 4.

[9] Ibid., p.68.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 50.

[12] Ibid., p.60.

[13] Powell, B. B., Classical Myth (2009), N. Y., Pearson Education., p. 84.

[14] Ibid., p. 85.