Phalluses and Fireplaces

Dion. Hal. 4.2:

There is also current in the local records another story relating to his birth which raises the circumstances attending to the realm of the fabulous, and we have found it in many Roman histories. This account — if it be pleasing to the gods and the lesser divinities that it be related — is somewhat as follows: They say that from the hearth in the palace, on which the Romans offer various other sacrifices and also consecrate the first portion of their meals, there rose up above the fire a man’s privy member, and that Ocrisia was the first to see it as she was carrying the customary cakes to the fire, and immediately p269informed the king and queen of it.  Tarquinius, they add, upon hearing this and left beholding the prodigy, was astonished; but Tanaquil, who was not only wise in other matters but also inferior to none of the Tyrrhenians in her knowledge of divination, told him it was ordained by fate that from the royal hearth should issue a scion superior to the race of mortals, to be born of the woman who should conceive by that phantom. And the other soothsayers affirming the same thing, the king thought it fitting that Ocrisia, to whom the prodigy had first appeared, should have intercourse with it. Thereupon this woman, having adorned herself as brides are usually adorned, was shut up alone in the room in which the prodigy had been seen.  And one of the gods or lesser divinities, whether Vulcan, as some think, or the tutelary deity of the house, having had intercourse with her and afterwards disappearing, she conceived and was delivered of Tullius at the proper time. This fabulous account, although it seems not altogether credible, is rendered less incredible by reason of another manifestation of the gods relating to Tullius which was wonderful and extraordinary.

Plut. Rom. 2.3-6:

and others still rehearse what is altogether fabulous concerning his origin. For instance, they say that Tarchetius, king of the Albans, who was most lawless and cruel, was visited with a strange phantom in his house, namely, a phallus rising out of the hearth and remaining there many days.  Now there was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany, from which there was brought to Tarchetius a response that a virgin must have intercourse with this phantom, and she should bear a son most illustrious for his valour, and of surpassing good fortune and strength. Tarchetius, accordingly, told the prophecy to one of his daughters, and bade her consort with the phantom; but she disdained to do so, and sent a handmaid in to it.  When Tarchetius learned of this, he was wroth, and seized both the maidens, purposing to put them to death. But the goddess Hestia appeared to him in his sleep and forbade him the murder. He therefore imposed upon the maidens the weaving of a certain web in their imprisonment, assuring them that when they had finished the weaving of it, they should then be given in marriage. By day, then, these maidens wove, but by night other maidens, at the command of Tarchetius, unravelled their web. And when the handmaid became the mother of twin children by the phantom, Tarchetius gave them to a certain Teratius with orders to destroy them. This man, however, carried them to the river-side and laid them down there. Then a she-wolf visited the babes and gave them suck, while all sorts of birds brought morsels of food and put them into their mouths, until a cow-herd spied them, conquered his amazement, ventured to come to them, and took the children home with him. Thus they were saved, and when they were grown up, they set upon Tarchetius and overcame him. At any rate, this is what a certain Promathion says, who compiled a history of Italy.

A little modern discussion.

Birds are an interesting portion of the numismatic evidence…

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