A DISCOURSE ON THE WORSHIP OF PRIAPUS: AND ITS CONNECTION WITH THE MYSTIC THEOLOGY OF THE ANCIENTS
The fauns and satyrs, which accompany the androgynous figures on the ancient sculptures, are usually represented as ministering to the Creator by exerting their characteristic attributes upon them, as well as upon the nymphs, the passive agents of procreation:
PLATE 10: SYSTRUM, WITH VARIOUS MEDALS
but what has puzzled the learned in these monuments, and seems a contradiction to the general system of ancient religion, is that many of these groups are in attitudes which are rather adapted to the gratification of disordered and unnatural appetites, than to extend procreation. But a learned author, who has thrown infinite light upon these subjects, has effectually cleared them from this suspicion, by showing that they only took the most convenient way to get at the female organs of generation, in those mixed beings who possessed both.  This is confirmed by Lucretius, who asserts, that this attitude is better adapted to the purposes of generation than any other.  We may therefore conclude, that instead of representing them in the act of gratifying any disorderly appetites, the artists meant to show their modesty in not indulging their concupiscence, but in doing their duty in the way best adapted to answer the ends proposed by the Creator.
On the Greek medals, where the cow is the symbol of the deity, she is frequently represented licking a calf, which is sucking her.  This is probably meant to show that the creative power cherishes and nourishes, as well as generates; for, as all quadrupeds lick their young, to refresh and invigorate them immediately after birth, it is natural to suppose, according to the general system of symbolical writing, that this action should be taken as an emblem of the effect it was thought to produce. On other medals the bull or cow is represented licking itself;  which, upon the same principle, must represent the strength of the deity refreshed and invigorated by the exertion of its own nutritive and plastic power upon its own being. On others again is a human head of an androgynous character, like that of the Bacchus διφυης, with the tongue extended over the lower lip, as if to lick something.  This was probably the same symbol, expressed in a less explicit manner; it being the common practice of the Greek artists to make a part of a composition signify the whole, of which I shall soon have occasion to give some incontestable examples. On a Parian medal published by Goltzius, the bull licking himself is represented on one side, accompanied by the asterisk of the sun, and on the other, the head with the tongue extended, having serpents, the emblems of life, for hair.  The same medal is in my collection, except that the serpents are not attached to the head, but placed by it as distinct symbols, and that the animal licking itself is a female accompanied by the initial of the word Θεος, instead of the asterisk of the sun. Antiquarians have called this head a Medusa; but, had they examined it attentively on any well-preserved coin, they would have found that the expression of the features means lust, and not rage or horror.  The case is, that antiquarians have been continually led into error, by seeking for explanations of the devices on the Greek medals in the wild and capricious stories of Ovid's Metamorphoses, instead of examining the first principles of ancient religion contained in the Orphic Fragments, the writings of Plutarch, Macrobius, and Apuleius, and the Choral Odes of the Greek tragedies. These principles were the subjects of the ancient mysteries, and it is to these that the symbols on the medals always relate; for they were the public acts of the states, and therefore contain the sense of nations, and not the caprices of individuals.
As M. D'Hancarville found a complete representation of the bull breaking the egg of chaos in the sculptures of the Japanese, when only a part of it appears in the Greek monuments; so we may find in a curious Oriental fragment, lately brought from the sacred caverns of Elephanta, near Bombay, a complete representation of the symbol so enigmatically expressed by the head above mentioned. These caverns are ancient places of worship, hewn in the solid rock with immense labour and difficulty. That from which the fragment in question was brought, is 130 feet long by 110 wide, adorned with columns and sculptures finished in a style very different from that of the Indian artists.  It is now neglected; but others of the same kind are still used as places of worship by the Hindoos, who can give no account of the antiquity of them, which must necessarily be very remote, for the Hindoos are a very ancient people; and yet the sculptures represent a race of men very unlike them, or any of the present inhabitants of India. A specimen of these was brought from the island of Elephanta, in the Cumberland man-of-war, and now belongs to the museum of Mr. Townley. It contains several figures, in very high relief; the principal of which are a man and woman, in an attitude which I shall not venture to describe, but only observe, that the action, which I have supposed to be a symbol of refreshment and invigoration, is mutually applied by both to their respective organs of generation,  the emblems of the active and passive powers of procreation, which mutually cherish and invigorate each other.
The Hindoos still represent the creative powers of the deity by these ancient symbols, the male and female organs of generation; and worship them with the same pious reverence as the Greeks and Egyptians did.  Like them too they have buried the original principles of their theology under a mass of poetical mythology, so that few of them can give any more perfect account of their faith, than that they mean to worship one first cause, to whom the subordinate deities are merely agents, or more properly personified modes of action.  This is the doctrine inculcated, and very fully explained, in the Bagvat Geeta; a moral and metaphysical work lately translated from the Sanscrit language, and said to have been written upwards of four thousand years ago. Kreshna, or the deity, became incarnate in the shape of man, in order to instruct all mankind, is introduced, revealing to his disciples the fundamental principles of true faith, religion, and wisdom; which are the exact counterpart of the system of emanations, so beautifully described in the lines of Virgil before cited. We here find, though in a more mystic garb, the same one principle of life universally emanated and expanded, and ever partially returning to be again absorbed in the infinite abyss of intellectual being. This reabsorption, which is throughout recommended as the ultimate end of human perfection, can only be obtained by a life of inward meditation and abstract thought, too steady to be interrupted by any worldly incidents, or disturbed by any transitory affections, whether of mind or body. But as such a life is not in the power of any but a Brahman, inferior rewards, consisting of gradual advancements during the transmigrations of the soul, are held out to the soldier, the husbandman, and mechanic, accordingly as they fulfill the duties of their several stations. Even those who serve other gods are not excluded from the benefits awarded to every moral virtue; for, as the divine Teacher says, If they do it with a firm belief, in so doing they involuntarily worship even me. I am he who partaketh of all worship, and I am their reward.  This universal deity, being the cause of all motion, is alike the cause of creation, preservation, and destruction; which three attributes are all expressed in the mystic syllable om. To repeat this in silence, with firm devotion, and immoveable attention, is the surest means of perfection,  and consequent reabsorption, since it leads to the contemplation of the Deity, in his three great characteristic attributes.
PLATE 11: SCULPTURE FROM ELEPHANTA
The first and greatest of these, the creative or generative attribute, seems to have been originally represented by the union of the male and female organs of generation, which, under the title of the Lingam, still occupies the central and most interior recesses of their temples or pagodas; and is also worn, attached to bracelets, round their necks and arms.  In a little portable temple brought from the Rohilla country during the late war, and now in the British Museum, this composition appears mounted on a pedestal, in the midst of a square area, sunk in a block of white alabaster.  Round the pedestal is a serpent, the emblem of life, with his head rested upon his tail, to denote eternity, or the constant return of time upon itself, whilst it flows through perpetual duration, in regular revolutions and stated periods. From under the body of the serpent springs the lotus or water lily, the Nelumbo of Linnæus, which overspreads the whole of the area not occupied by the figures at the corners. This plant grows in the water, and, amongst its broad leaves, puts forth a flower, in the center of which is formed the seed-vessel, shaped like a bell or inverted cone, and punctuated on the top with little cavities or cells, in which the seeds grow.  The orifices of these cells being too small to let the seeds drop out when ripe, they shoot forth into new plants, in the places where they were formed; the bulb of the vessel serving as a matrice to nourish them, until they acquire such a degree of magnitude as to burst it open and release themselves; after which, like other aquatic weeds, they take root wherever the current deposits them. This plant therefore, being thus productive of itself, and vegetating from its own matrice, without being fostered in the earth, was naturally adopted as the symbol of the productive power of the waters, upon which the active spirit of the creator operated in giving life and vegetation to matter. We accordingly find it employed in every part of the northern hemisphere, where the symbolical religion, improperly called idolatry, does or ever did prevail. The sacred images of the Tartars, Japonese, and Indians, are almost all placed upon it; of which numerous instances occur in the publications of Kæmpfer, Chappe D'Auteroche, and Sonnerat. The upper part of the base of the Lingam also consists of this flower, blended and composed with the female organ of generation which it supports: and the ancient author of the Bagvat Geeta speaks of the creator Brahma as sitting upon his lotus throne.  The figures of Isis, upon the Isiac Table, hold the stem of this plant, surmounted by the seed-vessel in one hand, and the cross,  representing the male organs of generation, in the other; thus signifying the universal power, both active and passive, attributed to that goddess. On the same Isiac Table is also the representation of an Egyptian temple, the columns of which are exactly like the plant which Isis holds in her hand, except that the stem is made larger, in order to give it that stability which is necessary to support a roof and entablature.  Columns and capitals of the same kind are still existing, in great numbers, among the ruins of Thebes, in Egypt; and more particularly upon those very curious ones in the island of Philæ, on the borders of Ethiopia, which are, probably, the most ancient monuments of art now extant; at least, if we except the neighbouring temples of Thebes. Both were certainly built when that city was the seat of wealth and empire, which it was, even to a proverb, during the Trojan war.  How long it had then been so, we can form no conjecture; but that it soon after declined, there can be little doubt; for, when the Greeks, in the reign of Psammeticus (generally computed to have been about 530 years after the Siege of Troy), first became personally acquainted with the interior parts of that country, Memphis had been for many ages its capital, and Thebes was in a manner deserted. Homer makes Achilles speak of its immense wealth and grandeur, as a matter generally known and acknowledged; so that it must have been of long established fame, even in that remote age. We may therefore fairly conclude, that the greatest part of the superb edifices now remaining, were executed, or at least begun, before that time; many of them being such as could not have been finished, but in a long term of years, even if we suppose the wealth and power of the ancient kings of Egypt to have equalled that of the greatest of the Roman emperors. The finishing of Trajan's column in three years, has been justly thought a very extraordinary effort; for there must have been, at least, three hundred good sculptors employed upon it: and yet, in the neighbourhood of Thebes, we find whole temples of enormous magnitude, covered with figures carved in the hard and brittle granite of the Libyan mountains, instead of the soft marbles of Paros and Carrara. Travellers, who have visited that country have given us imperfect accounts of the manner in which they are finished; but, if one may judge by those upon the obelisc of Rameses, now lying in fragments at Rome, they are infinitely more laboured than those of Trajan's Column. An eminent sculptor, with whom I examined that obelisc, was decidedly of opinion, that they must have been finished in the manner of gems, with a graving tool; it appearing impossible for a chisel to cut red granite with so much neatness and precision. The age of Rameses is uncertain; but the generality of modern chronologers suppose that he was the same person Sesostris, and reigned at Thebes about 1500 years before the Christian æra, and about 300 before the Siege of Troy. Their dates are however merely conjectural, when applied to events of this remote antiquity. The Egyptian priests of the Augustan age had a tradition, which they pretended to confirm by records written in hieroglyphics, that their country had once possest the dominion of all Asia and Ethiopia, which their king Ramses, or Rameses, had conquered.  Though this account may be exaggerated, there can be no doubt, from the buildings still remaining, but that they were once at the head of a great empire; for all historians agree that they abhorred navigation, had no sea-port, and never enjoyed the benefits of foreign commerce, without which, Egypt could have no means of acquiring a sufficient quantity of superfluous wealth to erect such expensive monuments, unless from tributary provinces; especially if all the lower part of it was an uncultivated bog, as Herodotus, with great appearance of probability, tells us it anciently was. Yet Homer, who appears to have known all that could be known in his age, and transmitted to posterity all he knew, seems to have heard nothing of their empire or conquests. These were obliterated and forgotten by the rise of new empires; but the renown of their ancient wealth still continued, and afforded a familiar object of comparison, as that of the Mogul does at this day, though he is become one of the poorest sovereigns in the world.
1. Recherches sur les Arts, iv. i. c. 3.
2. Lib. iv. v. 1260.
3. See Plate 4. Fig. 3, from a medal of Dyrrachium, belonging to me.
4. See Plate 3. Fig. 5, from one of Gortyna, in the Hunter Collection; and Plate 3. Fig. 4, from one of Parium, belonging to me.
5. See Plate 3. Fig. 4, and Plate 3. Fig. 6, from Pellerin.
6. Goltz. Insul. Tab. xix. Fig. 8.
7. See Plate 3. Fig. 4.
8. Archoel. Vol. viii. p. 289.
9. See Plate 11.
10. Sonnerat, Voyage aux Ines. T. 1. p. 180.
11. Niebuhr, Voyages, Vol. II. p. 17.
12. Bagvat Geeta, p. 81.
13. Bagvat Geeta p. 74.
14. Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes, liv. ii. p. 180. Planche. LIV.
15. See Plate 12.
16. See Plate 20. Fig. 1.
17. Page 91.
18. See Plate 18. Fig. 2, from Pignorius.
19. See Plate 18. Fig. 1, from Pignorius.
20. Hom. Iliad. i, ver. 381.
21. Tacit, Ann. lib. it. C. 60.