Learning Day: Roman Cock Talismans 🌭

If you go digging around the ruins of ancient Rome, you’ll find lots and lots of human boners with wings, like this:

“Wow, that does kind of look like a winged erection!” you might be saying, “It even kind of has balls! I guess I have the same twisted, dong-centric imagination as you, Jason!” Well, I’m thrilled to inform you that the above object is exactly what it looks like. That bronze charm symbolized the “divine phallus” to the Romans. It’s called a “fascinus” and – I am not fucking with you here – it is the origin of the word “fascinate.” That word literally means, “To call upon a magical swarm of proverbial winged, throbbing cocks to enchant another’s mind.”

The Romans turned these majestic feathered pork missiles into amulets to be dangled from necklaces…

…and wind chimes, like this winged dick that itself has a dick and a tail that is also a dick:

Just so you know that I’m not making up this next part, I’m going to paste in a quote from the world’s most widely-read expert on this subject, Wikipedia:

“Varro notes the custom of hanging a phallic charm on a baby’s neck, and examples have been found of phallus-bearing rings too small to be worn except by children. A 2017 experimental archaeology project suggested that some types of phallic pendant were designed to remain pointing outwards, in the direction of travel of the wearer, in order to face towards any potential danger or bad luck and nullify it before it could affect the wearer… “

That’s right: When a Roman baby came into the world, the first step was to throw an adorable little todger around its neck, facing outward, to symbolically fuck the world. 

How did this empire ever collapse? But there’s more:

“The victory of the phallus over the power of the evil eye may be represented by the phallus ejaculating towards a disembodied eye.

If you’re struggling to visualize that, don’t worry, plenty of art from the era has you covered:

If your middle school science teacher ever caught you drawing a picture of a hooved hard-on using its own, separate throb-hog to ejaculate into a giant disembodied flying eyeball piloted by a dancing scorpion, they’d confiscate it and tuck it away for the inevitable day Netflix asks to reference it in their eight-part documentary about your sex murders. But let me be perfectly clear: If you watch any portrayal of ancient Rome, be it a Hollywood blockbuster or a play on Easter Sunday, and the Romans in it aren’t absolutely bristling with decorative peckers, what you’re watching is total bullshit.

“Why are you telling us this,” you ask, “aside from the obvious fact that all we really want is to be distracted, all the time, until we die?”

Well, you see, I have a problem. I’m reaching an age where I’m expected to transition from ribald comedy shithead into a respectable author, someone who critics won’t be embarrassed to praise, like when Eminem started rapping about the importance of gun control and got invited to perform at the Grammys. I’m getting noticeable gray hair, I need to become a stately figure who dispenses wisdom from this more introspective phase of life (I have a Substack newsletter, for Christ’s sake). But again and again I run into the same obstacle, which is that I just can’t stop laughing at the idea of slapstick trauma to the ol’ flesh tone crayola.

The book I keep promoting here is literally called Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick, I just wrote a column here about a video of a guy kicking a horse in the penis and I riffed on the subject of bad guys getting dick-shot for hundreds of words in my Death Wish 3 analysis. There’s an old viral video of a guy at an MMA fight screaming, “Grab his dick and twist it! The oooool’ DICK TWIST!” and I’ve watched it easily a hundred times. I’m going to watch it again right now.

I’m sorry, but I was born into a world in which every single human instinctively knows it’s hilarious when somebody gets smacked in the pork warrior with a baseball, but nobody can really articulate why. And it just keeps coming up: When researching the fascinus, I found that sometimes Romans would substitute “The club of Hercules” for the phallus. When attempting to follow up on that, I stumbled across the famous statue of Hercules fighting Diomedes and found that HOLY SHIT, DIOMEDES IS GIVING HIM THE OOOOOL’ DICK TWIST!

How can a man who, in another tab, is currently shopping for the biggest version of that statue he can afford, also be someone you’d trust to provide insight about the ennui of middle age? Am I just always going to be like this?

I think so, yeah. See, from reading about the fascinus, it seems like nobody back then was totally clear as to whether these ceremonial beef bayonets were warding off evil because they were holy (thwarting it with their glorious, life-giving virility) or profane (because not even the “Evil Eye” would tolerate the sight of a fully-chubbed bronze meat mast mounted on a toddler’s neck). This paradox describes my upbringing in a nutshell, having been raised in a part of the country in which you can find rubber truck nuts and Bible verses on the same jacked-up pickup. 

It’s a culture in which masculinity is worshipped but the sex organ can never be glimpsed, to the point that even Jesus’s canonical nudity on the cross is covered in a family-friendly cloth for the crucifix. The spirit of the human sausage-in-a-Darth-Vader-helmet inhabits every rock song and car commercial but only the most explicit aren’t shrouding it in euphemism. At least the Roman phallic symbols were actual phalluses.

I know I should move on, but how can I, when the culture itself never did? I feel like society’s concept of being more “mature” about these subjects means becoming even more coy and neurotic about them than I was at 16. Don’t they understand that that’s precisely why people still find them funny? 

So, no, I don’t think I’m going to grow out of this phase any time soon. I can’t help it, I just find the whole thing fascinating.

Jason Pargin’s writings can now be found on his new site hosted at Substack, you can read his columns there or have them emailed to you if that’s too much effort. He is the author of Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick and his new book will be out next year.