November 27, 2012

Visual etymological

Spanish archaeological blog Asociación los Dólmenes reports today[es] that a curious and somewhat obscene finding is at the roots of the modern city of Seville (known as Hispalis in Roman times). The finding of a phallic relief on the entrance of one of the oldest buildings of that city, at the port, has open a debate on whether the city has its origins in whore house (as could be normal for a harbor) or are we talking instead of a building-protector deity apparently of North African origins (where is found in many public buildings).



But regardless of the exact meaning of the icon, the depiction of an erect virile member with avian legs made me think of the origin of colloquial Spanish and English words for penis: cock and polla (Sp. chicken, fem.) Obviously Romans were not thinking of T. rex, right?

What about other languages? Berber, Portuguese, Catalan-Occitan, French, Italian? 


PS: The image actually has a lizard-like tail what should get us all a bit perplex because the closest thing that comes to mind is a dinosaur but Romans could not know anything about dinos, could they? 

This is the kind of argument used to reject the authenticity of some archeological findings like in the Iruña-Veleia case, where conjectures about the plausibility or not of this or that text (the non-existent Descartes - is Miscart) or letter (Z for example) have been used as alleged proof of falsification

Whatever the deep logic behind this icon, it's not weirder than gargoyles or centaurs, is it?

8 comments:

  1. The only thing I can come up with (Freudian, here?) is that it is related to the strutting of the male bird - both visually, including the pulsing, and figuratively, i.e. the obsession with the beauty and superiority of one's own appendages.

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  2. But regardless of the exact meaning of the icon, the depiction of an erect virile member with avian legs made me think of the origin of colloquial Spanish and English words for penis: cock and polla (Sp. chicken, fem.)

    This is relatively ancient solar-phallic symbolism, I think.

    The figure looks Roman and appears very similar in form to Priapic fertility amulets and the like found in Italy, France, and even England. Some have foul's legs, some seem to be canid, and some appear to be dragon-like, with a tail and wings.

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    1. Very interesting. I was not familiar at all (nor seem the researchers from what they say in the source - only mentioning North Africa).

      When you say "foul" you meant "fowl", right? :)

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    2. Yes, sorry about that. I did intend "fowl.

      I learned of such things from a curious book, Two Essays on the Worship of Priapus -- PDF.

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    3. Wow! I don't have time nor willpower to read it all, with all those "f" instead of "s" and all that, but the images are most interesting on their own. A quite curious essay it looks and a lot of examples of association of male genitals to birds, notably cocks.

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  3. Maju said,

    "But regardless of the exact meaning of the icon, the depiction of an erect virile member with avian legs made me think of the origin of colloquial Spanish and English words for penis: cock and polla (Sp. chicken, fem.) Obviously Romans were not thinking of T. rex, right?


    What about other languages? Berber, Portuguese, Catalan-Occitan, French, Italian?"

    Modern reflexes of the Old Chinese word for "bird" (鳥, something like */tew/) also mean "penis" or "f*ck" in many modern Chinese dialects, either instead of or in addition to the meaning "bird." Subsequent taboo/vulgarity avoidance may be the greatest reason why the modern Mandarin word for "bird" (niǎo) is not a regular direct descendant of the Old Chinese word for the same class of animal.

    The Ainu word for "penis" (*/ti/) is also very similar to the Ainu words for "bird" (*/tir/, */tikap/).

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    1. In Spanish they also say sometimes "el pajarito" (the little bird) but it is not used in a sexual sense but almost exclusively in relation with potentially embarrasing situations like when you forget zip up or when talking to children about going to the toilet.

      In the sexual sense the terms used are mainly "polla" (chicken, fem.) and then stick-related comparisons like "verga", "vara" (stick, wand) or strange words of unknown original meaning like "cipote" (just made a search and it may originally mean "milestone" of ultimate Latin origin "cippo": stone pillar - ironically in Central America it means "kid").

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    2. Cipote would make sense, possibly deriving from the herma.

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