USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Fertile’
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Phallic Symbolism on Homes in Pompeii

The informant, a 66-year-old American woman (my grandmother), has frequently traveled to Italy for the past several decades. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her if any particular Italian traditions or beliefs have stood out to her over the course of her travels, and she laughed.

“Oh my, you’re in for a treat. In Pompeii, the buildings were preserved in ash. After they had been dug out, many of the doors had carvings over them that were perfectly preserved. On more than one house, large penises are carved on the door. This would signify that it was a fertile home and would help whoever lived there to continue to have children and ensure success for a family. I’ve also heard that it was a way of bragging. Hey, if I had a large penis to brag about I’d probably do the same thing.”

Since these carvings would have been made in a pre-Christian era, they preceded the more familiar carving of a fish over one’s door, which Christians would use as a symbol to signify that their home was a safe place of worship. It is interesting to consider that in the cultural context of Pompeii thousands of years ago, representations of basic human anatomy were appropriate for placement in the extremely intimate barrier to one’s home–at the liminal divide between public and private. In America today, it goes without saying that a homeowner’s association would be less than pleased at the sight of a penis carved on someone’s porch. Perhaps this change has arisen because in the contemporary United States we no longer view having a fertile home and being able to sustain a family as an extraordinary accomplishment worth bragging about, instead we see it as something rather ordinary, but thousands of years ago during the Roman period it may have been looked upon as much more of an accomplishment worth bragging about to be able to provide for one’s family and maintain a fertile home.

general

The Four F’s

The Four F’s: Fat, Female, Forties, and Fertile

“Remember that. It’s the telltale signs: A woman, who’s overweight, in her forties, and hasn’t gone through menopause yet. Basically a recipe for gallbladders stones, if you can check off the Four F’s and there’s any pain in the abdomen then it’s pretty much an instant diagnosis.”

My informant told me this saying in an Operating Room where we both watched her husband perform pro-bono gallbladder surgery on a woman who had no insurance and a classic case of gallbladder stones, thanks to the Four F’s. In addition to being a memorable piece of folk speech for diagnosis, the Four F’s in name alone sounds like a recipe for something bad. Even if you didn’t know that fat, female, forties, and fertile referred to potential gallbladder issues, the list infers trouble.

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