A Simple Word Can Open Many Doors

Plate from An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus by R. P. Knight. 1786

Plate from An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus by R. P. Knight. 1786

Today I was searching for references to the Latin word terriculum, for the sake of curiosity. The word  primarily means “means to create terror” but can also be taken to mean “scarecrow” and “bugbear.” Since the term bugbear was used as well, I think the term scarecrow in this instance means “an object of baseless fear.”  Romans did seem to have some sort of scarecrow in the sense that we understand the word. The speculation that keeps cropping up while research the word is that they copied the Greek herms statues which depict the god Priapus and used them to scare birds. Priapus was related to Venus, however, he was extremely ugly and always depicted ithyphallic. Now this brings us to the above picture. In my search for archeological images of a garden Priapus, I came across a book which is verbosely entitled  An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus. Lately Existing at Isernia, in the Kingdom of Naples: in Two Letters; One From Sir William Hamilton to Sir Joseph Banks and the Other From a Person Residing at Isernia; to Which is Added, a Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its Connexion With the Mystic Theology of the Ancients, published in 1786 and authored by Richard Payne Knight. The image above has an entertaining bit of  squeamishness concerning things of a sexual nature where he writes:

A fpecimen of thefe was brought from the Ifland of ELEPHANTA, in the Cumberland man of war, and now belongs to the Mufeum of Mr. TOWNLEY. It contains general figures, in very high relief: the principal of which are a Man and Woman, in an attitude which I fhall not venture to defcribe, but only obferve, that the action, which I have fuppofed to be a fymbol of refrefhment and invigoration, is mutually applied by both to their refpective Organs of Generation, the emblems of the active and paffive powers of procreation, which mutually cherifh and invigorate each other. (81)

One has to wonder why he published such an image which obviously made him feel uncomfortable either culturally or personally. As you may have noticed, the use of the f or as it’s called, the medial s is used in place of the “s.” I always found this to be an interesting trend. The function of the medial s was that it was used in the middle of the word and the regular s we recognize today was placed at the end. Although this wasn’t as cut and dry as it would appear as some words seem to break this rule. This isn’t the only case of this mode of typography. We also see this in ancient Greek with the letter sigma Σ σ, the upper and lower case letters respectively, where the lower case σ is used in the middle of words and the letter ς is used to end words ending in s. The obvious similarities between the English letter s and Greek letter ς is quite evident.

To finish on a good note here is an image of our belovéd Priapus for your amusement, because you should know, the images of the phallus, which were ubiquitous in the Mediterranean, were depicted macrophallic or ithyphallic and were apotropaic by nature. The bottom line was that there were used to incite laughter!

Fresco showing Priapus weighing himself, House of the Vettii, Pompeii

Fresco showing Priapus weighing himself, House of the Vettii, Pompeii

Caligula’s Insane Antics


I bade you! Gather the seashells and fill your helmets and the folds of your gowns, they are the spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine. -Caligula
Probably one of my favorite antics of Emperor Caligula who reigned from 37-41 CE. Growing up he was an army brat and nicknamed by the troops Caligula which is the diminutive caligulae, “little soldiers boot.” His father Germanicus waged war in Germania and was the reason for his son’s association with the military at such a young age. His disposition was quite disturbed and in the sources he is frequently described as sexually depraved, violent, and insane (if you can even believe the sources).

So let us move on to address the background of this story. One must begin with the source  called The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by C. Suetonius Tranquillus which was published in 121 CE. Although this source is questionable  since it is burgeoning with racy gossip and a satirical account of Julius Caesar, the bulk of the work concerns the end of the Republic and the period of Roman history known as the principate, ending with the Emperor Domitian. Due to the nature of the source, it must be taken with a grain of salt. However, it still is a fascinating story.
So, the full story goes something like this:

Caligula decided to invade Britain, so he marched to the shore adjacent to the isle with his legions. While on the beach, he set up the artillery facing the ocean, his troops took his orders, confused but unwilling to question the strategic application of the ballistae facing the crashing waves. Then, without warning, when the soldiers were confused on what he planned to do next, Caligula gave the signal to attack the Ocean and plunder the sea of its shells as spoils of war.

Suffice to say, he was murdered by his praetorian guard shortly thereafter, the first to have been assassinated in this manner, but surely not the last.

What Does Adpragmalic Mean?

Mosaic black bath –attendant. From Timgad, northwestern baths (at entrance to room, between two tepidaria.) 82 x 70 cm. Timgad, Musée Archéologique

Mosaic black bath –attendant. From Timgad, northwestern baths (at entrance to room, between two tepidaria.) 82 x 70 cm. Timgad, Musée Archéologique

At the heart of my current research titled Forging “Christian Rome”: Cultural Shifts of Late Antiquity  is the treatment of the image of the black African or Aethiopes. In one section of this paper I begin by looking at the treatment of the image of the black African by Romans as apotropaic which other scholars such as John Clarke, Katherine Dunbabin and others have. To be apotropaic meant having the power to avert evil influences of the Evil Eye. As the ubiquitous mosaic images found in bathing complexes showed black Africans not sexualized but simply ithyphallic, having an erect phallus or macrophallic, having an obviously large phallus. This leads to the monastic images of the Ethiopian demon found in their writings that changed the representation from a defense against evil to one of fornication and sexual evil, a demon of tainted lust.
So in the course of writing I created a new word to describe this unique and ironic change taking place during this period. This constituted the apotropaic image of the black African changing into something that monastic writers considered to be evil. In short, I present this neologism adpragmalic here and has been defined below.

ad•prag•mal•ic |ədpragˈmalik|


an ironic change to something that is contrary to the previous attribute of an object


adpragmalically |ədpragˈmali’k(ə)lēadverb

adpragmalism |ədpragˈmalizemnoun

In a sentence: The interpretation of the black african by monastic writers in the fourth century was adpragmalic.

ORIGIN: Late 20th cent.: from Latin malus ‘evil’ and Greek pragma ‘thing’, literally  “change to an evil thing.”