Religion, in Rome, was made a pretext for many of her obscene orgies and debaucheries, which may be mentioned here for their features of immodesty. There were temples to the deities—Isis, Venus Volupia (the voluptuous), Venus Salacia (the lascivious), and the public Gardens of Priapus, all of which were much frequented, and made the scenes of the most monstrous lewdness.1 The latter god,
' And we need not go back so far for instances in which religion has been adroitly wrested to serve the needs of sexuality. Austin tells us (Lib. tie heres) that the Nichol-aites, a sect founded by the deacon, Nicholas, had promiscuous sexual intercourse. Mohammed used every woman he fancied, in order to beget prophets; two hundred and forty-five being in love with him at once, and he as "able as forty men" to satisfy them. (Al-Koran, Bibliondro). The priests of Cybcle, Bacchus, Bel, Ishtar and Osiris, as proxies, actually emaciated themselves in accepting the hosts of maidenheads offered to those deities; the Anabaptists of Minister consorted with all women just as the "spirit moved them;" and the Adamites, an early religious sect of France and Bohemia, founded by Picardus, going absolutely naked, as Munster naively remarks, (Cosmog., lib. 3, cap. 497} in their religious meetings, when the priest repeated that order from Genesis—increase and multiply—"out went the candles, and without respect of age, person or condition, catch-as-catch-can, every man took her that came next to him." an obscene deity among the ancients, was bora at Lampsacus, it is said, of a union of Venus with Mercury, or as some say, Adonis. Priapus was so deformed that his mother, ashamed of his ugliness, exposed him on the mountains, where his life was saved by some shepherds. He became a favorite of the people of Lampsacus, but was soon after expelled from the community for his acts of licentious violence.
Festivals of an exceedingly immoral character soon came to be celebrated in his honor; the people of Rome, through their luxury and salacious tendency, readily falling into the worship of a deity whose lust particularly commended itself to them.1 He was represented with an enormous penis, rigid and red—rubicundus—-which was almost always made of wood, that preferred being sometimes cypress, but most frequently the fig-tree— fiats. " We need not explain," remarks Buret," the concealed meaning which influenced this choice of wood."3 It was customary in Rome for intended brides to repair to the gardens of Priapus, before the nuptial ceremony, to sacrifice their virginity to the god. Although there was of course no actual defloration, nevertheless the young betrothed was obliged to sit upon the enormous penis in such a manner as to bring its extremity into contact with her genitals.*
There was nothing, to tell the truth, but simple contact in the ceremony, and that of very short duration; but it is sufficient, nevertheless, to explain quite clearly the rapid spread and propagation of venereal disease which, medical writers inform us, was so notorious a condition of the times. The strange custom must have been derived from India; for Duquesne reports that he saw, in a pagoda in the environs of Pondichery, "newly married women coming to the god, Lingam, to offer the sacrifice of their virginity.' They were made to sit upon a Lingam (Indian Priapus) made of wood or iron; but it appears that there were pagodas far more advanced than this; for, as the author naively remarks, "in many of these the priests, far more adroit, robbed the poor god of his chief function,"
' Lempriere, toe. ext., art. "Priapus." See also St. Augustine, "Civitas Dei," lib. vi, Cap. ix; CatulL, Epbt. 19 and 20; Horat., i Sat. i; Virg., Eel. vu-v-33. ' Referring to the term ficus, a fig, as the mucous syphilids was called. < Buret, lac. cit., i, 172-3.
4 Lac. cit.; also Dufour "Hist, of Prostitution;" and Did. Enajdop. de* Sc. Medic.
Men offered to Priapus the first fruits of their gardens, importuning him to cure the diseases his worship had communicated; and decorated his magnificent organ with garlands of flowers, and the ex-votos which recalled the form, if not the size, of his phallus.1 So, also, the women had recourse to Isis or Venus in their trouble, filling her temples with analogous ex-votos representing the organs of their sex; and the extraordinary spectacle was presented, in both cases, of a temple dedicated to two distinct, and equally necessary purposes, sexual orgies in the evening, and "divine healing" next morning for the diseases they produced.
Our latter-day quacks, who make brothels and water closets the chief fields of their advertising enterprise, it may not be amiss to remark, had also their antetypes in the whore-houses of Tarentum and Pompeii; the empirics—male and female—sellers of drugs, and peddlers of philters, overrunning with their business stands the approaches to the temples, and bawling out their wares like fakirs on a fair-day. As the quaint Burton remarks (he. cit., p. 547), "the most sly, dangerous and cunning bawds, are your knavish physicians and empirics. Though it be against Hippocrates' oath, they will give a dram, promise to restore maidenheads, make an abortion if need be, keep down the paps, hinder conception, procure lust, make men able as Satyrs, and now and then step in themselves."
1 The sign of the brothel in Rome was a clay phallus, baked and painted, surmount' ing the suggestive inscription over the door-—"Hie habitat Felicitas," Indeed, to show the tenacity with which religious superstitions cling to us, it is no uncommon thing in Naples, Florence, Rome and other Italian cities, to see men wearing, on the threshold of the Twentieth Century, little carved figures of Priapus dangling from their watch-chains, as a prophylactic against the J citatum; while the painted penis over the bawdy-house door may be yet seen in Naples by any traveller curious enough to search for it. Phalluses carved on stone have been unearthed in the excavations at Pompeii, evidently connected with advertising the bawdy houses of the times, and in China today they are the accepted badge of the trade of prostitution.