The fascinating Mutunus Titunus

Tutunus, cuius immanibus pudendis horrentique fascino vestras inequitare matronas et auspicabile ducitis et optatis.

[“Tutunus, cujas imanes e horrendas partes pudendas são montadas pelas vossas matronas, conduzidas auspiciosamente por vossa opção.”]

– Arnobius, Adversus nationes, 1, IV, 4.7 (see also 4.11).


Et mutunus in cujus sinu pudendo nubentes præsident; ut illarum puditiam prior deus delibasse videatur.

[“E mutunus, a cujo colo pudendo as nubentes presidem, parecendo ser o deus o primeiro a saborear o seu pudor.”]

– Lactantius, De falsa Religione, 1, I.


Etenim nisi Dionyso pompam celebrarent canerentque carmen in pudentia conditum, impudentissimi in factis essent, inquit Heraclitus. Idem vero Orcus ac Dionysus cujus amore furunt et bacchantur.

[“A menos que seja a Dioniso que celebram com pompa e cantam um hino com as vergonhas à mostra, impudentíssimo de facto seria, diz Heráclito. Na verdade, o mesmo são Orcus e Dioniso em cujo amor enfurecem e banqueteiam.”]

– Heraclitus, cit. in Clemente of Alexandria, Protreptic, 34, 5.


Man fighting against his own sex, portrayed as a raging beast – a tintinnabulum (from Latin “tintinnare”, ring a bell; in Portuguese, tintins are a slang word for “testicles” and an onomatopoeia for the sound of bells), about 1st century B.C., which was placed in front of house entrances to prevent harm/bad luck. It was found in antique Herculaneum, Southern Italy, and is to show in the Secret Cabinet in the Museo Archeologico (Naples).


Mutunus Tutunus

Mutunus Tutunus (or Mutinus Titinus) was worshipped in a shrine located on the Velian Hill, supposedly since the founding of Rome, until the 1st century BC.

During preliminary marriage rites, Roman brides were supposed to ride (inequitare) Mutunus to prepare themselves for intercourse.

Both parts of the name Mūtūnus Tūtūnus are reduplicative, derived from two recorded slang words for “penis” [*] in Latin:

Mūtō (or muttō, mūtōnium) was used as a cognomen, the third of the three elements of a Roman man’s name. Probably, it gave origin to the English “mutton”, the male sheep. Mūtōnium appears among the inscriptions of Pompeii. Horace has a dialogue with his personified muttō: “What do you want? Surely you’re not demanding a grand consul’s granddaughter as a cunt?” (Sermones, 1.2.68). Mūtūniātus describes a “well-endowed” male, as mentioned by Martial (Epigrams, 3.73.1 and 11.63.2) and Corpus Priapeorum (52.10). Muttō is etymologically close to the Latin words: 1) muttum (murmur, low sound), the etymon of the English “mutter” (to utter) and of the German “mutter” (mother); 2) mutus (silent, mute), the etymon of the Anglo-French “muet”; 3) motu (motion) which originated motto (a recurring musical movement or a moving maxim) and the French “mot” (word) [**].

Tītus – a titus with wings was a common motif in Roman decorative arts and a visual pun, since the word also referred to a type of bird (Scholiast on Persius, Satire, 1.20). It was also common as a masculine first name, used by several Roman officials.

Titus with wings, “fig and phallus” and fascinum found at Reims. Musée Saint-Remi, Reims.


The fascinum

In ancient Roman traditions, the fascinum was a phallus-shaped amulet worn around the neck or a magic enchantment used to invoke the divine protection of the phallic deity Fascinus.

The fascinus was thought particularly to ward off evil from children, mainly boys, and from conquering generals. Pliny notes the custom of hanging a phallic charm on a baby’s neck, and examples have been found of phallus-bearing rings too small to be worn except by children. Pliny, in Natural History (28.4.7), called it a medicus invidiae, a “doctor” or medicine for envy (invidia) or the evil eye.

The “fig and phallus” (one is feminine, the other masculine) pendant was prevalent amongst soldiers. Several examples show the fist making the manus fica or “figa”, a protective sign against bad luck.

The Vestal virgins tended the cult of the fascinus populi Romani, the sacred image of the phallus that was one of the tokens of the safety of the state (sacra Romana). It was thus associated with the Palladium. Roman myths, such as the begetting of Servius Tullius, suggest that this phallus was an embodiment of a masculine generative power located within the hearth, regarded as divine. When a general celebrated a triumph, the Vestals hung an effigy of the fascinus on the underside of his chariot to protect him from invidia.

From fascinum derives the verb fascinare, “to use the magic power of the fascinus“. Catullus uses the verb at the end of Carmen 7, a hendecasyllabic poem addressing his lover Lesbia; he expresses his infinite desire for kisses that cannot be counted by voyeurs nor “fascinated” (put under a spell) by a malicious tongue; such bliss, as also in Carmen 5, potentially attracts invidia.

If an object, regarded as being the embodiment or habitation of the magical potency of the fascinus, is treated with devotion, it turns into a fetish (“feitiço” in Portuguese), and his devotee, with more or less fixation, is a fetishist and a fascist.

Bas-relief of a huge legged phallus over an “evil eye” on which a scorpion sits. From Leptis Magna, Libya.



[*] Penis is between speech marks (” “) because, in fact, we’re in the domain of the phallus:

«Is it and must it remain the perpetual object of a riddle, the perpetuum mobile! This would be a way of recalling the objective consistency that the category of the problematic takes on at the heart of structures. And in the long run, it is good that the question “How do we recognize structuralism?” leads to positing something that is not recognizable or identifiable. Let us consider Lacan’s psychoanalytic response: the object = x is determined as phallus. But this phallus is neither the real organ, nor the series of associable or associated images: it is the symbolic phallus. However, it is indeed sexuality that is in question, a question of nothing else here, contrary to the pious and ever-renewed attempts in psychoanalysis to renounce or minimize sexual references. But the phallus appears not as a sexual given or as the empirical determination of one of the sexes. It appears rather as the symbolic organ that founds sexuality in its entirety as system or structure, and in relation to which the places occupied variously by men and women are distributed, as also the series of images and realities. In designating the object = x as phallus, it is thus not a question of identifying this object, of conferring to it an identity, which is repellent to its nature. Quite the contrary, for the symbolic phallus is precisely that which does not coincide with its own identity, always found there where it is not since it is not where one looks for it, always displaced in relation to itself, from the side of the mother.» – Deleuze, “A quoi reconnaît-on le structuralisme?”, in François Châtelet (dir.), Histoire de la philosophie VIII. Le XXe siècle, Hachette, 1973, republished in “Desert Islands…”).

[**] In Galician-Portuguese folklore, this three semantic fields (sexuality, sound and movement) appear interrelated in the tales about moiras encantadas (“enchanted Moor maids”), where magnetically beautiful or serpent-like maids who remained silent and captive, «compelled by an occult sobrenatural power to live stuck in a certain state or place, as if they were numb or asleep, as long as a determinate circumstance does not break their enchantment» (José Leite de Vasconcelos, Opusculos, Volume V, Etnologia, Parte I, Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, 1938, p. 496). These moiras frequently were guardians of a treasure lot and, in fact, they embodied the qualities of a perfect guardian: silent, attending (in position of attention) and not easy to seduce. When not totally silent, they only murmured, moaned or resounded like an echo. The moiras are entities of the inside, dwelling inside a well, fountain of virtuous waters (that if one drank would fell in love by the moira), stone, grotto or fig-tree whose fruits dried outside (in the sun or in the moonlight) turned into gold… In this fashion, a Moorish saying affirms that maids are kept at home because they are like jewels. The disenchanting of the moiras could be produced, on one side, by the action of giving them what they lacked – a spoken word formula, the accomplishment of some task (which could involve resisting one’s evil eye), or offering them food (bread and milk are their favourites) or sympathy -, on the other side, by quietly surprising them in the day of Saint John (Summer solstice), when moiras appear outside with their treasures. A disenchanted moira would turn into a normal human or disappear. The Portuguese word moira comes from the Greek moira for “lot, portion” (Moirae were the three deities which gave humanity their portions of birth, maturity and death). Other related etymons are: 1) the Latin morari (to dwell), which originated morada (dwelling place) and mora (delay, wait, dilation of a duration, endurance); 2)  the Latin maurus (dark), since moira might have dark skin but they also preferred to reside in obscure places; 3) the Celtic words mrw (dead) and mori (water), insofar moira played dead and are linked to stone monuments to the dead, and frequently they are found near water (the Celtic composed word mori-morwen, water-dead, designates mer-maids). In Scandinavian mithology, Mara ou Mare is the spirit that leaves women bodies during sleep, to wander around at night. In Polish mithology, that spirit is called Mora. In Latvian mithology, Māra is the supreme goddess. In a certain way, the moira played an equivalent role to the Greek serpent-like Agathodaemon (“good daemon“) , and to the protective deities called Lares, taken into care by the Vestals in the Roman temples and by women in each home.

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