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"The Roman voluptuaries were accustomed to ornament their chambers with licentious paintings, the subjects of which were chiefly taken from the works of Philaenis, Elephantis and other erotic writers. Thus Lalage lays a series of tablets, representing different postures in copulation, as ex-votos on the altar of Priapus. Cyrene is said to have employed her pencil as well as pen on this subject; according to Suidas, 'Cyrene was a celebrated whore, known under the name of Dodecamechanos, as she knew how to do the amorous work in twelve positions.' Aristophanes, in the Frogs, also speaks of the dozen postures of Cyrene. Propertius censures the custom of hanging these obscene pictures on the walls of rooms. Suetonius says of Tiberius, 'He had several chambers set round with pictures and statues in the most lascivious attitudes, and furnished with the books of Elephantis, that none might lack a pattern for the execution of any lewd project that was prescribed him.' Ovid writes, 'They join in venery in a thousand forms; no tablet could suggest more modes.' And Apuleius, 'And, having imitated in their every mode the joyous tablets, let her change posture, and herself hang o'er me on the couch. 'The Thesaurus Eroticus numbers seven different postures of coition." --from the 1890 Priapeia translation by Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Priapeia is a collection of poems (ninety five in number) in various meters on the subject of Priapus. It was compiled from literary works and inscriptions on images of the god by an unknown editor, who composed the introductory epigram. From their style and versification it is evident that the poems belong to the best period of Latin literature.

These poems were posted upon statues of Priapus that stood in the midst of gardens as the protector of the fruits that grew therein. These statues were often crude carvings made from tree trunks. They roughly resembled the form of a man and were equipped with a huge, erect phallus that doubled as a club that the gardener could use against would-be robbers. The statues also promoted the gardens’ fertility.

The verses are attributed variously to Virgil, Ovid, and Domitius Marsus. However, most authorities on the matter regard them to have been the work of a group of poets who met at Maecenas’ house, amusing themselves by writing tongue-in-cheek tributes to the garden Priapus. (Maecenas was Horace’s patron.) Others, including Martial and Petronius, were thought to have added more verses in imitation of the originals.

The Priapeia was translated into English by Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton (the latter of whom also translated The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night), who provided numerous glosses concerning the sexual practices and proclivities that are referenced in the poems. These explanatory notes address such diverse topics as irrumation, cunnilingus, masturbation, bestiality, sexual positions, eunuchism, phalli, religious prostitution, aphrodisiacs, pornography, and sexual terminology.

The poems include monologues by Priapus in which the god congratulates and praises himself for the size and virility of his sexual parts and issues fearful warnings to those who would trespass upon his garden or attempt to steal its fruits, threatening such miscreants with various punishments of a sexual nature, such as irrumation and sodomy.

In the “Introduction” to the Priapeia, the translators point out that “The worship of Priapus amongst the Romans was derived from the Egyptians, who, under the form of Apis, the Sacred Bull, adored the generative Power of Nature,” adding that “the Phallus was the ancient emblem of creation, and representative of the gods Bacchus, Priapus, Hercules, Siva, Osiris, Baal and Asher, who were all Phallic deities.”

The Priapeia presents the verses first in their original Latin, followed by their English translations, followed by a summary of their plots, followed by notes on the text. For those who are unfamiliar with Latin poetry, it may be helpful to read the summaries before reading the poems’ translations. The notes concerning the text are keyed by numbers in brackets that correspond to the same numbers in the summaries of the verses.

See also

Roman erotica, Priapées et sujets divers

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Priapeia" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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