Priapus became a popular figure in Roman erotic art and Latin literature and is the subject of the often humorously obscene collection of verses called the Priapeia.
Priapus is a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens, and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his oversized, permanent erection, which gave rise to the medical term priapism. Priapus was described in varying sources as the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus.
Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome
Priapus joined Pan and the satyrs as a spirit of fertility and growth, though he was perennially frustrated by his impotence. In a ribald anecdote told by Ovid, he attempted to rape the goddess Hestia but was thwarted by an ass, whose braying caused him to lose his erection at a critical moment and woke Hestia. The episode gave him a lasting hatred of asses and a willingness to see them killed in his honor. The emblem of his lustful nature was his permanent erection and his large penis.
The first extant mention of Priapus is in the eponymous comedy Priapus, written in the 4th century BC by Xenarchus. Originally worshipped by Greek colonists in Lampsacus in Asia Minor, the cult of Priapus spread to mainland Greece and eventually to Italy during the 3rd century BC. Lucian (De saltatione) tells that in Bithynia Priapus was accounted as a warlike god, a rustic tutor to the infant Ares.
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