Priapus in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
（*Pri/apos), a son of Dionysus and Aphrodite (Paus. 9.31.2;
Diod. 4.6; Tib. 1.4. 7; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. 1.932).
Aphrodite, it is said, had yielded to the embraces of
Dionysus, but during his expedition to India, she became
faithless to him, and lived with Adonis. On Dionysus' return
from India, she indeed went to meet him, but soon left him
again, and went to Lampsacus on the Hellespont, to give
birth to the child of the god. But Hera, dissatisfied with
her conduct, touched her, and, by her magic power, caused
Aphrodite to give birth to a child of extreme ugliness, and
with unusually large genitals. This child was Priapus.
According to others, however, Priapus was a son of Dionysus
and a Naiad or Chione, and gave his name to the town of
Priapus (Strab. xiii. p.587; Schol. ad Theocr. 1.21), while
others again describe him as a son of Adonis, by Aphrodite
(Tzetz. ad Lyc. 831), as a son of Hermes (Hyg. Fab. 160), or
as the son of a long-eared father, that is, of Pan or a
Satyr (Macr. 6.5). The earliest Greek poets, such as Homer,
Hesiod, and others, do not mention this divinity, and Strabo
(xiii. p.558) expressly states, that it was only in later
times that he was honoured with divine worship, and that he
was worshipped more especially at Lampsacus on the
Hellespont, whence he is sometimes called Hellespontiacus
(Ov. Fast. 1.440, 6.341; Arnob. 3.10). We have every reason
to believe that he was regarded as the promoter of fertility
both of the vegetation and of all animals connected with an
agricultural life, and in this capacity he was worshipped as
the protector of flocks of sheep and goats, of bees, the
vine, all garden-produce, and even of fishing (Paus. 9.31.2;
Verg. Ecl. 7.33, Georg. 4.110, with the commentators). Like
other divinities presiding over agricultural pursuits, he
was believed to be possessed of prophetic powers, and is
sometimes mentioned in the plural (Tib. 1.4. 67; Moschus,
3.27). As Priapus had many attributes in common with other
gods of fertility, the Orphics identified him with their
mystic Dionysus, Hermes, Helios, &c. (Schol. ad Theocr.
1.21; Eustath. ad Hom. pp. 691, 242.) The Attic legends
connect Priapus with such sensual and licentious beings as
Conisalus, Orthanes, and Tychon. (Strab. l.c. ; Aristoph.
Lys. 982; comp. Diod. 4.6). In like manner he was confounded
by the Italians with Mutunus or Muttunus, the
personification of the fructifying power in nature (Salmas.
ad Solin. p. 219; Arnob. 4.11). The sacrifices offered to
him consisted of the first-fruits of gardens, vineyards, and
fields (Anthol. Palat. 6.102), of milk, honey, cakes, rams,
asses, and fishes (Anthol. Palat. 10.14; Ov. Fast. 1.391,
416; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. 2.84). He was represented in
carved images, mostly in the form of hermae, with very large
genitals, carrying fruit in his garment, and either a sickle
or cornucopia in his hand (Tib. 1.1. 22, 4. 8; Verg. G.
4.110; Horat. Sat. 1.8; Hirt. Mythol. Bilderb. p. 172). The
hermae of Priapus in Italy, like those of other rustic
divinities, were usually painted red, whence the god is
called ruber or rubicundus. (Ov. Fast. 1.415, 6.319, 333). -
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology,
William Smith, Ed.