Phallic Features of the Dionysus Cult

by Esteban

” … There is, however, another sacred story which I had from the lips of a wise man—that the goddess was Rhea, and the shrine the work of Attes. Now this Attes was by nation a Lydian, and he first taught the sacred mysteries of Rhea. 30 The ritual of the Phrygians and the Lydians and the Samothracians was entirely learnt from Attes.

For when Rhea deprived him of his powers, he put off his manly garb and assumed the appearance of a woman and her dress, 31 and roaming over the whole earth he performed his mysterious rites, narrating his sufferings and chanting the praises of Rhea.

In the course of his wanderings he passed also into Syria. Now, when the men from beyond Euphrates would neither receive him nor his mysteries, 32 he reared a temple to himself on this very spot. The tokens of this fact are as follows: She is drawn by lions, she holds a drum in her hand and carries a tower on her head, just as the Lydians make Rhea to do. 33 He also affirmed that the Galli who are in the temple in no case castrate themselves in honour of Juno, but of Rhea, and this in imitation of Attes. All this seems to me more specious than true, for I have heard a different and more credible reason given for their castration.

I approve of the remarks about the temple made by those who in the main accept the theories of the Greeks: according to these the goddess is Hera, but the work was carried out by Dionysus, 34 the son of Semele: Dionysus visited Syria on his journey to Aethiopia.

There are in the temple many tokens that Dionysus was its actual founder: for instance, barbaric raiment, Indian precious stones, and elephants’ tusks brought by Dionysus from the Aethiopians. Further, a pair of phalli of great size are seen standing in the vestibule, bearing the inscription, “I, Dionysus, dedicated these phalli to Hera my stepmother.” This proof satisfies me.

And I will describe another curiosity to be found in this temple, a sacred symbol of Dionysus. The Greeks erect phalli in honour of Dionysus, and on these they carry, singular to say, mannikins made of wood, with enormous pudenda; they call these puppets. There is this further curiosity in the temple: as you enter, on the right hand, a small brazen statue meets your eye of a man in a sitting posture, with parts of monstrous size.

These are the legends concerning the founders of the temple.”

Herbert A. Strong and John Garstang, trans., The Syrian Goddess, by Lucian, 1913, pp. 55-8.