Pagan Paths

Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.

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Why do male statues made in ancient Hellas have such small packages?

Oh guys, you know I love you, right? Yesterday I got not one but two e-mail from readers. One was a very sweet note abut the quality of the blog and how much they like reading it, the other was a very simple question, and I really appreciate that the reader (who has opted to remain anonymous) was comfortable enough with me to ask it. The message reads:

"Hello Elani,
I'm a frequent reader of your blog, and I read the post about the Greek statues being returned because the Qatar government did not want to display them naked. I saw the image that went with it and I want to ask you something I have been wondering about. Why do all the male statues from ancient Greece and Rome have small [packages]? Were ancient Greek men all that small? Sorry if this is inappropriate.
Thanks in advance!"

It's a very good question, and I don't feel it is inappropriate at all. I will, however, not use the most common word for the male genitalia, because that attracts a lot of weird attention to the blog. That is why I have changed the word to 'package' above. I assume we all know what we're talking about here. One more thing: I'm a lesbian, so besides the random reveal here and there, I have not seen a male member--relaxed or enticed--in my life. If one of my male readers or well-informed female readers wants to contribute to this discussion, I welcome their input.

Before we start on the 'why', I first want to nuance the question a bit. Yes, many classical sculptures feature relatively small genitalia, but there are many examples of huge penises as well. The herms, placed on the threshold between the yard and the street of ancient Hellenic homes, often sported erect members of impressive size. The temple of Dionysos on the island of Dolos sports very impressive erect statues--shown on the right here--which unfortunately have been broken off throughout the years. These statues, and the herms dedicated to Hermes, especially, were apotropaic, meaning they warded off evil. There was nothing sexual about erect members, generally speaking.

In the case of Dionysos, Pan, and other fertility Gods, or those known for chasing nymphs around, a big package was absolutely normal on statues. It showed that they were wild Gods, speaking to an untamed part of men that lusted, and literally walked after whatever their members were pointing at. As such, big members were associated with unrestrained, barbaric, men who were only interested in chasing tail. It was also seen as comical, or even grotesque. This stood in direct contrast to the ideal man, who showed restrained, led with his (big) head, and showed sophistication and class. A big member was thus associated with barbarism, where a small member became associated with sophistication.

Secondly, the ideal beauty was young and chiseled, and young men, it seems, still need to grow into their size and pubic hair. Aristophanes, in 'The Clouds', describes this ideal beauty in a male with great detail:

"You’ll spend your time in the gymnasium—your body will be sleek, in fine condition. You won’t be hanging round the market place, chattering filth, as boys do nowadays. You won’t keep on being hauled away to court over some damned sticky fierce dispute about some triviality. No, no.
Instead you’ll go to the Academy, to race under the sacred olive trees, with a decent friend the same age as you, wearing a white reed garland, with no cares. You’ll smell yew trees, quivering poplar leaves, as plane trees whisper softly to the elms, rejoicing in the spring.
I tell you this—if you carry out these things I mention, if you concentrate your mind on them, you’ll always have a gleaming chest, bright skin, broad shoulders, tiny tongue, strong buttocks, and a little prick. But if you take up what’s in fashion nowadays, you’ll have, for starters, feeble shoulders, a pale skin, a narrow chest, huge tongue, a tiny bum, and a large skill in framing long decrees." [1278 - 1300]
As a third option, there might simply have been practical reasons: the model really was that small (although wiki says the average member in relaxed state is ten centimeters (four inches) long), it was chilly, the sculptor wanted the eye to focus somewhere else, or maybe he was scared of the member breaking off, leaving the statue member-less. Who knows? The most important reasons, it seems, were cultural.
I hope this answers the question for anyone who as also wondering about the same thing, and if you have a question--no matter what it is--or a topic you would like me to write about, don't be afraid to use the gmail e-mail address baring.the.aegis.

Image source: temple of Dionysos

Last modified on
Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' ( in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook:


  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Sunday, 02 June 2013

    While I agree with most of the information you've given here, Elani, there is a small (if you'll excuse the term) exaggeration that is often mistaken for fact in what you've said. The majority of Dionysos statues and paintings do not show him with an erection, contrary to popular belief. Yes, giant phallic images do accompany his processions, but they're usually disembodied, or are in the shape of other things (e.g. birds, fish, horses, etc.). But, he himself tends not to be shown in an exaggerated or priapic fashion...that gets left to Priapus, Orthanes, Konisalos, Phales, Tychon, Pan, and others (often satyrs) for the most part.

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Saturday, 08 June 2013

    You are absolutely right. I must have had Dionysos in my head, still, when I wrote that paragraph. I stand corrected. hank you for pointing this out.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Tuesday, 04 June 2013

    But, he himself tends not to be shown in an exaggerated or priapic fashion...that gets left to Priapus, Orthanes, Konisalos, Phales, Tychon, Pan, and others (often satyrs) for the most part.
    I've certainly noticed this, just from observation of ancient art. I really have no idea where the notion of a boneriffic Dionysos, Himself as depicted in art, came from. The anatomy of His processions, as you state, was often disembodied.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 03 June 2013

    Thanks, Elani, for another great post!

  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. Monday, 03 June 2013

    An important foot note here; "It's not the size that matters, it's the motion in the ocean".

  • aought
    aought Tuesday, 04 June 2013

    Or, "showers" versus "growers" :)

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Thursday, 06 June 2013

    That was a really good insight on how the Greeks valued Intellect over Instinct. Also, though, it's a physical fact that when you're exerting yourself in work or exercise (not sex-oriented), blood is pumping all through your body everyplace EXCEPT there. Nature wouldn't want an engorged phallus getting in the way at those times.

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Sounds practical, thank you for the addition!

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