mannikin of Dionysos

Lucian, The Syrian Goddess
16. 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 Dionysos, the son of Semele: Dionysos visited Syria on his journey to Aethiopia. There are in the temple many tokens that Dionysos was its actual founder: for instance, barbaric raiment, Indian precious stones, and elephants’ tusks brought by Dionysos from the Aethiopians. Further, a pair of phalli of great size are seen standing in the vestibule, bearing the inscription, “I, Dionysos, 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 Dionysos. The Greeks erect phalli in honour of Dionysos, 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.

28. The place whereon the temple is placed is a hill: it lies nearly in the centre of the city, and is surrounded by a double wall. Of the two walls the one is ancient; the other is not much older than our own times. The entrance to the temple faces the north; its size is about a hundred fathoms. In this entrance those phalli stand which Dionysos erected: they stand thirty fathoms high. Into one of these a man mounts twice every year, and he abides on the summit of the phallus for the space of seven days. The reason of this ascent is given as follows: The people believe that the man who is aloft holds converse with the Gods, and prays for good fortune for the whole of Syria, and that the Gods from their neighbourhood hear his prayers. Others allege that this takes place in memory of the great calamity of Deukalion’s time, when men climbed up to mountain tops and to the highest trees, in terror of the mass of waters. To me all this seems highly improbable, and I think that they observe this custom in honour of Dionysos, and I conjecture this from the following fact, that all those who rear phalli to Dionysos take care to place mannikins of wood on the phalli; the reason of this I cannot say, but it seems to me that the ascent is made in imitation of the wooden mannikin.

29. To proceed, the ascent is made in this way; the man throws round himself and the phallus a small chain; afterwards he climbs up by means of pieces of wood attached to the phallus large enough to admit the end of his foot. As he mounts he jerks the chain up his own length, as a driver his reins. Those who have not seen this process, but who have seen those who have to climb palm trees in Arabia, or in Egypt, or any other place, will understand what I mean. When he has climbed to the top, he lets down a different chain, a long one, and drags up anything that he wants, such as wood, clothing, and vases; he binds these together and sits upon them, as it were, on a nest, and he remains there for the space of time that I have mentioned. Many visitors bring him gold and silver, and some bring brass; then those who have brought these offerings leave them and depart, and each visitor gives his name. A bystander shouts the name up; and he on hearing the name utters a prayer for each donor; between the prayers he raises a sound on a brazen instrument which, on being shaken, gives forth a loud and grating noise. He never sleeps; for if at any time sleep surprises him, a scorpion creeps up and wakes him, and stings him severely; this is the penalty for wrongfully sleeping. This story about the scorpion is a sacred one, and one of the mysteries of religion; whether it is true I cannot say, but, as it seems to me, his wakefulness is in no small degree due to his fear of falling. So much then for the climbers of the phalli. As for the temple, it looks to the rising sun.

tumblr_m0n1puEzN71rpe8svo1_1280

 


One comment

  1. Just as there seems to be a dearth of work connecting Christian monasticism (which emerged in Egypt) to some of the things going on at the Temple of Serapis–to the degree that many scholars are willing to entertain Buddhist influences sooner than more geographically-adjacent ones!–so, too, I wonder if there has been any work connecting this account from Lukian to the later Christian “pillar-sitters” who often operated in that same general area, like St. Simeon Stylites, etc. Do you know of any such work yourself?

    Liked by 1 person


Comments are closed.