M is for Min

Published April 15, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Min was an ancient Egyptian god, and his primary function was one of fertility.  And that brings me to the following point:


The following post contains the discussion and depiction of ancient art featuring naked men, some of them more than usually endowed.  If that might upset you, then please do not read the rest of the post.  Thank you.

All right, so now that we’ve lost the few prudes left on the Internet, let’s proceed.

Min proved that he was even more fertile than his worshipers by constantly sporting an erection.  This must have impressed the Egyptians to no end, because images of him have been found all over Egypt, not merely in his cultic centers.

Stele dedicated to Hathor. Wikimedia Commons

Stele dedicated to Hathor. Wikimedia Commons

Of course, that may have had just as much to do with his worship as with Min himself.  The Greeks associated Min with Pan, which may indicate — especially when taking the ithyphallic nature of his representations into consideration — that his worship had an orgiastic aspect that would obviously go a long way towards making him more popular with the everyday worshiper.

Min was also closely associated with lettuce, which to the Egyptians was an aphrodisiac (unlike to the Greeks, who thought it robbed a man of his sexual potency), perhaps because the lettuce that grew in ancient Egypt had a more phallic shape than the bulbous lettuce most of us are familiar with, plus it put out a semen-like substance.  (There is, in fact, a myth about Horus and Set that involves (among other things) Set being fed lettuce covered with semen.  Despite being a god, he doesn’t even notice the semen, which presumably means he thought it was the naturally produced lettuce by-product.)

Something in this picture is supposed to be lettuce? (The Wikimedia Commons page wasn't clear about that...)

Something in this picture is supposed to be lettuce? (The Wikimedia Commons page wasn’t clear about that…)

Okay, so now let’s get on with the comparisons.  The Greeks, as I said, associated Min with Pan.  Aside from them both having similarly short names that end in the letter “n,” is there any good basis for that?

Birth of Aphrodite by the Erichthonios Painter. Wikimedia Commons.

Birth of Aphrodite by the Erichthonios Painter. Wikimedia Commons.

Well, that certainly looks Min-like.

Oh, wait, I should be looking at his role in myth and religion, not his equipment, shouldn’t I?  Yeah, my bad.

Aside from any orgiastic elements (which we don’t actually see in what we know of Pan’s worship, btw), there don’t seem to be any real similarities.  But the Greeks didn’t really have anyone like Min, so if they were going to assume he was like someone of theirs, Pan made sense because his (usual) father Hermes was off the table.

And what do I mean by that?  Well, Hermes had very important functions to the Greeks, connecting the living and the dead, so when they were looking at the Egyptian gods and trying to figure out which of their own gods they actually were (who knows why they felt the need to do that), they weren’t going to waste him on a fertility god like Min.  (Instead they decided that Thoth was actually Hermes, presumably because of his role as a judge of the dead.  If it’d been me, I’d have picked Anubis, but…that’s neither here nor there.)

While Hermes is not usually regarded as being a fertility god, per se, he did have a particularly fertile side:

A herm from Sifnos. Wikimedia Commons.

A herm from Sifnos. Wikimedia Commons.

Herms acted as trail markers, sign posts, boundary stones, and…well, they were pretty all purpose, really.  Need a place to have a little more divine protection than it’s got?  Put a herm there!  (Yes, btw, I do think it would be awesome to see people start putting up herms around here.  Maybe I should put one in my back yard…)

Now as to why these ithyphallic trail markers became associated with Hermes…well, he did have a role to play as a guardian of travelers, but who knows if that came before or after the herms.  (I think it’s one of those “chicken and egg” arguments.)

Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons.

This vase — and a few others like it — certainly indicates that herms also stood near altars where offerings to the gods were burnt, so perhaps part of their function was to use Hermes’ power as a messenger to make sure that messages — or offerings — reached the correct gods.  That’s just something off the top of my head, but it seems at least somewhat logical.

Now, that’s about all I’ve got for the Greeks, but the Romans were always eager to outdo the Greeks, and while they usually failed, in one respect they succeeded.  Priapus was often (but not always) said to be the son of Mercury (AKA Hermes), and herm-like statues of Priapus were all over ancient Rome, especially inside one’s home or garden, as in one of his functions he acted sort of like a divine guardian of one’s private space.

Priapus has weighed your puny taxes, and found them wanting. (Wikimedia Commons)

Priapus has weighed your puny taxes, and found them wanting. (Wikimedia Commons)

To the ancient Greeks, the sight of Priapus’ oversized member would have been disgusting, but the Romans — like so many people here in the US — thought that bigger was always the same as better.  Just like Min, he was very popular, and a lot of art of him has been recovered.

Now we’re going to leave the Mediterranean for a moment, and look at one more chap who seems to fit into this mold.  (Though, to be honest, he has more in common with Hermes than with Min.)

Chimata-no-kami is the Japanese god of the crossroads.  He was one of the many gods created when Izanagi was cleaning himself of the contamination of the afterlife, and he’s generally said to have been that of the filth which ended up in Izanagi’s trousers.  (As to why Izanagi was visiting the land of the dead, it’s a long story, unrelated to this one, and it’s easily found.  But I’ll just sum up the barest bones with “it didn’t end well.”)

So what does Chimata-no-kami look like?

Well, I couldn’t find any images (oddly enough) but the description of his usual depiction…is a lot like a herm.

And that’s how his statues functioned, too.  As trail markers and so on.  (With the added bonus that if you stroked the erect phallus, you gained good luck.  I’m not sure if that was the case with herms or not…though it probably happened fairly regularly, regardless.  Ditto with Priapus statues.)

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this half as much as I enjoyed writing it!

(I really should have done this for “C” instead of “M,” given that Min’s kind of the odd man out here, but…”C” was the only really good Inca one I had, and I knew I’d be making several other comparisons involving Japanese figures, whereas the Incan myths really don’t correspond well to any others, so…)

Half the alphabet down, half to go!

One comment on “M is for Min

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