Phalli fighting with fluids: Approaching images of ejaculating phalli in the Roman world

Parker, Adam (2021). Phalli fighting with fluids: Approaching images of ejaculating phalli in the Roman world. In: Bradley, Mark; Leonard, Victoria and Totelin, Laurence eds. Bodily Fluids in Antiquity. Routledge, pp. 173–190.



There are hundreds of images of phalli intimately related to specific buildings in the ancient world. Most often these were carved or incised into stone or depicted on mosaics, often fulfilling an apotropaic function through their location at liminal or boundary spaces on and within these buildings. The supernatural protection was usually implicit and the magical message obvious to an ancient viewer, but a subtype of these carvings incorporating a phallus attacking an Evil Eye took a more literal approach to presenting their supernatural function to the ancient viewer. In these scenes, the phalli were usually aggressive, proactive, and direct in attacking the Eye. This artistic narrative often incorporated ejaculation or urination. Using the bodily fluid from an avatar of protection to physically attack the personification of enmity was a powerful image, and one which resonated with the magical ability of disembodied phalli to distract, disengage, or nullify the negative powers of the Evil Eye. This chapter explores the somewhat varied artistic forms that this narrative took across the Roman world and contextualises them within their original spatial limits, as well as considering the material and sensory implications of these objects in these original spaces.

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