We are comic, vulgar, odd, grotesque freakish and shocking in sex, Thomas Moore reminds us in The Soul of Sex. Priapus, a minor Classical god, represents these unpretty aspects of our humanness, Moore explains, as do Coyote and Kokopelli in North America.
The Priapeia is a collection of the sorts of poems that were posted on statues of Priapus, which stood in gardens to protect what was growing and promote the garden’s fertility. The statues were often crude carvings made from tree trunks, roughly resembling a man with a huge penis.
Here’s one poem:
Altho’ you see that part of me to be wet by which I’m signified to be Priapus, ’tis not dew, believe me, nor hoarfrost, but what is wont to gush forth spontaneously when my mind recalls a pathic girl [catamite].
So long as thou snatchest nothing from me with audacious hand, thou mayst be chaster than Vesta herself. But, if thou dost, these belly-weapons of mine will so stretch thee that thou wilt be able to slip through thy own anus.
If Priapus offends you … then you may be sensing the edge of your capacity for life. People talk lightly and eagerly about personal growth, but the expansion of soul entails a stretching of sensibilities that may be painful and disturbing. Under the aegis of Priapus, personal growth has no sentimentality, and it may be focused on enlarging life at the bottom, not at the top. Imagine growing by becoming less certain and less informed, getting in touch with your ignorance and foolishness rather than your intelligence, and allowing sensation to dim rationality.
Here is an hilarious excerpt from The Miller’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Alison, the carpenter’s wife, has her lover, Nicholas, with her at home while her husband isn’t there. Absolom, believing Alison to be alone, sets out to woo her.
When the first cock had crowed, up rose this frisky lover, and arrayed him in his gayest with all nicety. But first he chewed cardamoms and licorice to smell sweetly, before he had combed his hair, and put a true-love charm under his tongue, for by this he hoped to find favor. He rambled to the carpenter’s house, and stood still under the casement, which was so low it reached to his breast. He gave a soft half-cough, “What do you, sweet Alison, honeycomb? My fair bird, my darling! Awake, sweet cinnamon, and speak to me. You think right little upon my sorrow, who sweat for your love wherever I go! No wonder though I languish and sweat! I mourn like a lamb after the dug. In faith, darling, I have such love-longing that I mourn like the true turtle-dove. I cannot eat, no more than a maiden.”
“Go from the window, Jack-fool,” she said. “On my soul, there will be no singing ‘Come kiss me now.’ I love another better than you, by heaven, Absalom, and else I were at fault. Go your ways, or I will cast a stone at you, and let me sleep, in the Devil’s name!”
“Alas!” he said. “Alackaday that true love was ever so ill bestowed! Then kiss me, since it may be no better, for Jesus’ love, and for the love of me.”
“Will you then go your way with that?” she said.
“Yes, surely, sweetheart,” said this Absolom.
“Then make yourself ready,” she said, “I am coming now.”
And to Nicholas she said silently, “Now hush, and you shall laugh your fill.”
This Absolom set himself down on his knees and said, “I am a lord of the highest degree; for after this I hope there will come more. Sweetheart, your grace, and sweet bird, your favor!”
She unlatches the window, and does so in haste. “Take this,” she said, “come now, and move quickly, lest our neighbors see you.”
This Absolom wiped his mouth dry. Dark as pitch, or as coal, was the night, and at the window she put out her hole, and Absolom, who knew no better or worse but with his mouth he kissed her naked ass so sweetly, before he was aware of this. He started aback, and thought something was amiss, for well he knew a woman has no beard. He felt something all rough and long-haired, and said, “Fy! alas! What have I done?”
“Tee hee!” she said, and shut the window, and Absolom went forth with troubled steps.
“A beard! A beard!” said handy Nicholas, “By God’s body, this goes fair and well.”
This foolish Absolom heard every bit, and on his lips he began to bite angrily, and said to himself, “I shall pay you back.”Who rubs now, and who chafes now, his lips with dust, with sand, with straw, with cloth, with chips, but Absolom, who says over and over, “Alas! I commend my soul unto Satan”? But I would rather be revenged for this insult” he said, “than own this entire town. Alas,” he said, “alas, that I did not turn aside!” His hot love was now cold and entirely quenched; for from that moment that he had kissed her ass, he cared not a straw for things of love, for he was healed of his sickness. Often the things of love he defied, and wept as does a child that is beaten.
This Absalom walked slowly across the street to a smith called Master Gervase, who forged plough-instruments at his forge. He was busily sharpening coulter and share when Absalom knocked very gently and said, “Unlock the door, Gervase, and do it quickly.”
“What! Who are you?”
“It is me, Absalom.”
“What, Absalom! By the cross, why are you up so early? Eh, God bless! What ails you? Some pretty girl, God knows, has brought you to stir so early. By Saint Neot, you know well what I mean!”
This Absalom cared not a peascod for all his mocking, and returned not a word in kind. He had more wool on his distaff than Gervase knew, and said, “Dear friend, that hot coulter in the chimney–lend it to me. I have something to do with it; and I will bring it you again right away.
“Surely,” answered Gervase, “even if it were gold or nobles in a bag all uncounted, you should have it, as I am a faithful smith! Eh, the Devil, what do you want to do with it?”
“That is as it may be,” said Absalom. I shall tell you tomorrow;” and he took up the coulter by the cool handle. Softly he went out the door and went to the wall of the carpenter’s house. He coughed first, and knocked withal upon the window, as he did before.
“Who is there that knocks so?” Alison answered. “I warrant it a thief!”
“Why nay,” he said, “God knows, my sweet, I am your Absalom, my sweetheart. I have brought you a ring of gold; my mother gave it me, on my life! It is very fine and nicely engraved. I will give you this, if you kiss me!”
This Nicholas had risen to take a piss, and he thought he would contribute to the joke; he should kiss him before he ran off! And he threw up the window in haste and quietly put his ass out–past the buttocks, all the way to the thigh-bone. Thereupon spoke this clerk Absalom, “Speak, sweet bird, I know not where thou art.” This Nicholas then let fly a fart as great as a thunder-clap, so much so that with the stroke Absalom was almost blinded; and he was ready with his hot iron and smote Nicholas on the ass. Off went the skin, about a hands-breadth around, the hot coulter burned his rump so, and for the pain he thought he would die. “Help! Water, water! Help, help, for God’s sake!” he cried like a madman.
Translated and edited by Gerard NeCastro © 2007
Catch Alison, Nicholas and Absolom in these scenes from Pasolini’s 1972 movie.
Write Sexercise: Write a sex scene that offends you. Make it 19 sentences. You may want to introduce the scene briefly if it’s part of a larger story. But concentrate your writing on the vulgarity of the scene itself. Work with both offensive content and offensive language. Don’t just use base language to describe an otherwise ordinary encounter. As Moore advises, allow yourself to be disturbed, stretch your sensibilities. Become less certain, less informed. Get in touch with your ignorance and foolishness rather than your intelligence. And allow sensation to dim rationality.