Reader question: “Why do all old statues have such small penises?”
The reader who sent me this felt that it was a question that was maybe too silly for my blog, but – firstly – there are no questions too silly for this blog, and – secondly – the answer to this question is actually pretty interesting.
By “old statues”, I assume that we’re talking about ancient Greek and Roman statues. We’ll focus ancient Greek statues, as they heavily influenced all other small-penised European sculptures.
There are two main reasons why ancient Greek statues have small penises:
Firstly, they’re flaccid. If you compare their size to most flaccid male penises, they are actually not significantly smaller than real-life penises tend to be.
Secondly, cultural values about male beauty were completely different back then. Today, big penises are seen as valuable and manly, but back then, most evidence points to the fact that small penises were considered better than big ones.
One of the reasons historians, such as Kenneth Dover in his landmark book Greek Homosexuality, have suggested that small penises were more culturally valued is that large penises were associated with very specific characteristics: foolishness, lust and ugliness. There are actually quite a few ancient Greek sculptures that have enormous penises. Here’s one:
The first sculpture is of a satyr, and the second is of the Greek god Priapus. Satyrs were mythological creatures that were followers of Dionysus, the god of pleasure and wine. Priapus was a Greek fertility god cursed with a permanent erection, impotence, ugliness and foul-mindedness by Hera. Priapus was actually so despised by the other gods that he was thrown off Mount Olympus.
All representations of large penises in ancient Greek art and literature are associated with foolish, lustful men, or the animal-like satyrs. Meanwhile, the ideal Greek man was rational, intellectual and authoritative. He may still have had a lot of sex, but this was unrelated to his penis size, and his small penis allowed him to remain coolly logical.
The Greek playwright Aristophanes summarises this attitude in one of his plays, Clouds, where he writes:
“If you do these things I tell you, and bend your efforts to them, you will always have a shining breast, a bright skin, big shoulders, a minute tongue, a big rump and a small prick. But if you follow the practices of today, for a start you’ll have a pale skin, small shoulders, a skinny chest, a big tongue, a small rump, a big prick and a long-winded decree.” (Lines 1010 – 1019, emphasis mine)
Ancient Greek sculptures are all about balance and idealism. Therefore, it makes sense that they wouldn’t have large penises, as this would be considered humorous or grotesque.
The ancient Romans might have been more positive towards large penises, but their sculptures continue the trend of small penises. Later, in Renaissance art, sculptors were very specifically influenced by ancient Greek art and their small penis size.
A famous example of a small penis is Michelangelo’s David (1501 – 04), a Renaissance sculpture from Florence, Italy. There’s an interesting theory for why David’s penis is so small, apart from the Greek influence. In 2005, two Florentine doctors published a paper arguing that David’s penis was shriveled by fear. When viewed from the front, David’s face actually looks frightened and concerned, because of his impending fight with the giant Goliath. The doctors argue that Michelangelo sculpted every detail in David’s body to be consistent with symptoms of fear and tension – including his genitals.
Classical Greek sculpture has been hugely influential for all sculptural representations of the male body in European art, so it’s no wonder that small-penised statues have been the norm throughout most of Western art history. It also shows that our obsession with penis size has always been there, it’s just changed slightly.
Interested in more genitalia in art history? Check out my post on hairless vaginas in art!