Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Priapus was a rustic Greek god. He is not one of the Twelve Olympians and is never mentioned in the Homeric epics, but like other Greek deities, he found his way into Roman religion and Latin literature. Humans looked to him for the protection of orchard fruit and the guarantee of male sexual potency, both themes embodied in his typical representation, a wooden statue whose exaggerated erect phallus was an explicit warning that fruit thieves of either sex would be raped.

Intruders having been scared off, Priapus’s second typical form was a statuette of a smiling, homely figure whose apron, visibly supported by his phallus, offers a lapful of ripe fruit to the householder and his guests. Such Priapi in bronze and terracotta have been found by archaeologists at Pompeii and elsewhere. Two literary sources confirm that edible Priapi in the same style were made for display at banquets. One is a verse couplet from a series written by Martial, around 100 c.e., to accompany surprise gifts: “Pastry Priapus: If you want to be replete you can eat our Priapus: you can even nibble his loins and you’ll still be clean.”