Mutunus Tutunus

In ancient Roman religion, Mutunus Tutunus or Mutinus Titinus was a phallic marriage deity, in some respects equated with Priapus. His shrine was located on the Velian Hill, supposedly since the founding of Rome, until the 1st century BC.

A denarius issued by Quintus Titius, thought to depict a bearded Mutunus Tutunus

During preliminary marriage rites, Roman brides are supposed to have straddled the phallus of Mutunus to prepare themselves for intercourse, according to Church Fathers who interpreted this act as an obscene loss of virginity.[1] The Christian apologist Arnobius says that Roman matrons were taken for a ride (inequitare) on Tutunus's "awful phallus" with its "immense shameful parts",[2] but other sources specify that it is brides who learned through the ritual not to be embarrassed by sex: "Tutinus, upon whose shameful lap sit brides, so that the god seems to sample their shame before the fact."[3] The 2nd-century grammarian Festus is the only classical Latin source to take note of the god,[4] and the characterization of the rite by Christian sources is likely to be hostile or biased.[5]


Unlike Priapus, who is depicted in human form with an outsized erection, Mutunus seems to have been embodied purely by the phallus, like the fascinus or the mysterious begetter of Servius Tullius. The god's name is related to two infrequently recorded slang words for penis in Latin, mūtō (or muttō) and mūtōnium.[6] "Mutto" was also used as a cognomen, the third of the three elements of a Roman man's name.[7] Lucilius offers the earliest recorded instance of both forms: at laeva lacrimas muttoni[8] absterget amica ("A girlfriend wipes away Mutto's tears — his left hand, that is"),[9] and the derivative mūtōnium. Mūtōnium may have replaced the earlier form, as it appears later among the graffiti of Pompeii.[10] Horace has a dialogue with his muttō: "What do you want? Surely you're not demanding a grand consul's granddaughter as a cunt?"[11] Both Lucilius and Horace thus personify the muttō.[12] Mūtūniātus, used by Martial and in the Corpus Priapeorum,[13] describes a "well-endowed" male.[14]

Both parts of the name Mūtūnus Tūtūnus are reduplicative, Tītīnus perhaps from tītus, another slang word for "penis."[15]

It is also possible, if not probable, that Latin "mut" was a vowelized loan derivative of the consonantal Egyptian word MT for 'phallus, male, man' in the adjacent hieroglyph, considering that Egyptian scribes did not vowelize MT, and that Budge[16] added an /e/ to MT in his dictionary to make it pronounceable.


The shrine of Mutunus Tutunus on the Velia has not been located. According to Festus, it was destroyed to make a private bath for the pontifex and Augustan supporter Domitius Calvinus, even though it was revered as among the most ancient landmarks.[17]

This uprooting raises the question of why Calvinus was permitted to displace such a venerable shrine. The Church Fathers associate Mutunus with groupings of other deities that are assumed to be based on the lost theological works of Varro. Through examining these connections, Robert Palmer concluded that the old cult of Mutunus was merged with that of Father Liber, who was variously identified with or shared attributes with Jupiter, Bacchus, and Lampsacene Priapus. Palmer further conjectured that it was Mutunus, in the form of Liber, to whom Julius Caesar made sacrifice on the day of his assassination, receiving the ill omens that the conspirator Decimus Brutus urged him to ignore. Caesar had previously celebrated his victory at the Battle of Munda on the Liberalia, or festival of Liber held March 17, and he visited the house of the pontifex Calvinus on the Ides of March, near the archaic shrine of Mutunus-Liber. In Palmer's view, the evident ill favor of the god gave Augustus license to reform the cult during his program of religious revivalism that often disguised radical innovations. The god was then Hellenized as Bacchus Lyaeus.[18]

Palmer concurred with numismatists who regard a denarius minted by Quintus Titius, moneyer ca. 90–88 BC, as picturing an aged and bearded Mutunus on its obverse.[19] The winged diadem is a reference to the Priapus of Lampsacus and to the winged phallus as a common motif in Roman decorative arts, which can also serve as an apotropaic charm against the evil eye. Another issue by Titius pictures an ivy-crowned Bacchus, with both denarii having a virtually identical Pegasus on the reverse. Michael Crawford finds "no good grounds" for identifying this figure as Mutunus,[20] but Palmer points to the shared iconography of the Bacchus–Liber–Priapus figure and the associative etymology of the gens name Titius. A titus ("penis") with wings was a visual pun, since the word also referred to a type of bird.[21] Varro seems to have associated Titinus with the Titii, in an etymological collocation that included Titus Tatius, the royal Sabine contemporary of Romulus; the Curia Titia; or the tribus of the Titienses, one of the three original tribes of Rome.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ H.J. Rose, The Roman Questions of Plutarch: A New Translation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924, reprinted 1974), p. 84 online.
  2. ^ Arnobius, Adversus nationes 4.7 (see also 4.11): Tutunus, cuius immanibus pudendis horrentique fascino vestras inequitare matronas et auspicabile ducitis et optatis. Compare Tertullian, Ad nationes 2.11 and Apologeticus 25.3. On the translation of pudendis, see J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, 1990), pp. 55–56.
  3. ^ Lactantius, Divinarum Institutionum 1.20.36: Tutinus in cuius sinu pudendo nubentes praesident ut illarum pudicitiam prior deus delibasse videatur. See also Augustine of Hippo (particularly De civitate Dei 4.11 and 6.9) who "several times refers with distaste to the practices associated with" the priapic gods; R.W. Dyson, The City of God Against the Pagans (Cambridge University Press, 1998, 2002), p. 1221 online.
  4. ^ Jean-Noël Robert, Eros romano: sexo y moral en la Roma antigua (Editorial Complutense, 1999), p. 58 online.
  5. ^ Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 6, note 37, marks "the mockery of the Christian writers"; see also Augustine's "distaste" for the phallic gods noted above. W.H. Parker, Priapea: Poems for a Phallic God (Routledge, 1988), p. 135 online, observes that the ritual of Mutunus was "condemned by early Church fathers"; Joseph Rykwert, The Idea of a Town: The Anthropology of Urban Form in Rome, Italy, and the Ancient World (MIT Press, 1988), p. 159 online, notes that they spoke "scathingly" of phallic rituals. Tertullian's bias in his assemblage of deities to deride (including Mutunus) pointed out by Mary Beard, John North et al., Religions of Rome: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 359, note 1 online. The fascinum — identified by Arnobius with the phallus of Mutunus — "was used by Christian writers in their tirades against pagan customs," points out Enrique Montero Cartelle, El latín erótico: aspectos léxicos y literarios (University of Seville, 1991), p. 70 online. For a fuller discussion, see Carlos A. Contreras, "Christian Views of Paganism," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.23.1 (1980) 974–1022, p. 1013 online specifically in relation to Mutunus and in general asserting that "Arnobius commits the same mistake as other Fathers of applying Christian conceptions to pagan ideas in order to condemn them" (p. 1010). "Our knowledge of such things," that is, of rites such as those of Mutunus, "comes from Christian writers who are openly concerned to discredit all aspects of pagan idolatry," states Peter Stewart, Statues in Roman Society: Representation and Response (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 266, note 24 online.
  6. ^ J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, 1990), p. 62 online.
  7. ^ CIL V.1412, 8473, as cited by Adams. The moneyer Quintus Titius, one of whose coins has been interpreted as depicting Mutunus, may have used the cognomen Mutto; T.R.S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (American Philological Association, 1952), vol. 2, p. 454.
  8. ^ Muttōni is the dative form of muttō.
  9. ^ Lucilius 307 and 959. Kirk Freundenburg has dubbed the muttō of Lucilius "clearly the least finicky of all personified penises in Roman satire": Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 205 online. The left hand was preferred for masturbation by the Romans; see Antonio Varone, Erotica pompeiana: Love Inscriptions on the Walls of Pompeii («L'Erma» di Bretschneider, 2002), p. 95 online.
  10. ^ CIL IV.1939, 1940.
  11. ^ Horace, Sermones 1.2.68.
  12. ^ Adams, Latin Sexual Vocabulary, p. 63.
  13. ^ Martial, Epigrams 3.73.1 and 11.63.2; Corpus Priapeorum 52.10.
  14. ^ Craig Arthur Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 92 online.
  15. ^ Adams, Latin Sexual Vocabulary, p. 32.
  16. ^ Budge, E.A. "An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary", Vol. I, p. 331
  17. ^ Festus 142L, as cited and discussed by Lawrence Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 262 online. See also Ronald Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 6 online.
  18. ^ Robert E.A. Palmer, "Mutinus Titinus: A Study in Etrusco-Roman Religion and Topography," in Roman Religion and Roman Empire: Five Essays (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974), pp. 187–206.
  19. ^ The identification dates back at least to Ch. Lenormant, "Types des médailles romaines," Revue numismatique (1838), pp. 11–12 online.
  20. ^ Michael Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage (Cambridge University Press, 1974, 2001), vol. 1, pp. 344 and 346 online.
  21. ^ Scholiast on Persius, Satire 1.20; Adams, Latin Sexual Vocabulary, p. 32.
  22. ^ Palmer, "Mutinus Titinus," p. 190.