The Foreskin


As previously mentioned, I’ve been helping with a street art project of Phanes called “The Epiphany of Phanes”, designed by my partner Wayne McMillan (The prayer card is now for sale here). Apart from the public’s expected reaction to a large image of a naked intersexed deity, others have unexpectedly responded to the fact that we have depicted Phanes with an un-mutilated penis.

Although I do have a personal abhorrence to circumcision there is another reason why Phanes and all other depictions of Greek gods are ‘uncut’ in our images.

We loosely follow classical aesthetics and in these ideals, depictions of a penis must maintain the foreskin.

Ancient Greeks were like the opposite of Jews when it comes to penises. They admired the foreskin and believed the length (of the foreskin) represented beauty and modesty. This may be hard for us to grasp nowadays, but when men would go around naked they were not technically naked as long as the head of the penis was not exposed. If however the foreskin was rolled back with the glans exposed they would be naked and were therefore obscene.

To prevent “wardrobe malfunctions” athletes would temporarily perform infibulation with the use of a kynodesme (dog tie), a tie around the foreskin that would allow the penis be connected around the waist or curled up. This would allow them to wrestle and run around without having to worry about their lipstick unexpectedly popping out.

The practice, and even surgical infibulation, was also used by poets and politicians to demonstrate their piety and noble moral standing (which is known as kalokagathia).

The Greek poet Anacreon (source)

As well as modesty, Greeks despised mutilation of the body, the ideal body should be completely intact therefore circumcision was considered barbaric, foreign and often associated with slaves.

There are examples of the penal glans being exposed in art. This is either for fun, a joke, or was involved in religious symbolism – or both. Satyrs and satyr plays feature large penises with exposed glans, this illustrates their shameless and fertile aspects as nature spirits. Likewise phalli of other fertility gods and phalluses used in procession also have exposed glans for the same reason to represent propagation.  So if we were depicting that aspect of a god it would be acceptable.

Otherwise to depict a deity with a circumcised penis or with exposed glans would be traditionally breaking classical aesthetics, which may be regarded as obscene and offensive.

Pottery like this had religious meaning, but were also novelty pieces for fun. Notice the satyrs standing have infibulated penises, while the central satyr holding up the cup with his member has exposed glans.

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