Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Virtue of a Small Penis

When I first went to Florence, I asked my sister in a museum why all the sculptures of naked men had such small penises. At this, her face screwed up with mischievous delight:
"Yours isn't any bigger!"
She was, of course, totally right. I was eight years old.

Poseidon (or Zeus) at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Bronze, ca. 460 BC.

Two decades and one puberty spurt later, however, things stand a little differently. And while visiting Athens this month, my question from the 90's returned: How come these perfectly formed males sport such relatively modest members? 


Croatian Apoxyomenos, Bronze, 1st or 2nd c. BC.

After a little research, it turns out that the answer is the same as to any question regarding beauty and body cults: it's cultural. The Ancient Greeks quite simply considered small penises better than big ones. Back then, the ideal man possessed authority, intellect and reason. These were all considered unrelated to penis size. Instead, it was believed that a small penis would help a man not to become a victim of his lust (think poor Michael Fassbender in Shame). 


Shepherd pursued by a phallic Pan - Greek vase, Athenian red figure krater


Big penises, on the other hand, were associated with ugliness and foolishness, which is why only animals or half-animals (such as Satyrs) were depicted with them. The fertility god Priapus was cursed with a permanent massive erection. He was associated with donkeys, and so despised by the other gods that he was thrown off Mount Olympus. 

A Greek Terracotta figure of Priapus, ©Christie’s 2015

The playwright Aristophanes summarizes the Greeks' ideal of male beauty in his play Clouds (first performed in 423 BC.) when he says:

If you do these things I tell you, and bend your efforts to them, you will always have a shining breast, a bright skin, big shoulders, a minute tongue, a big rump and a small prick. But if you follow the practices of today, for a start you’ll have a pale skin, small shoulders, a skinny chest, a big tongue, a small rump, a big prick and a long-winded decree.” (Lines 1010 – 1019, emphasis mine)

This male ideal continued to be propagated by sculptors throughout the ages, from the Romans down to the Renaissance. 


Who would have thought? Sometimes there's nothing better than answering your own question. 

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