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While poking around at this question: Symbolism behind Hepheastus riding a donkey

A common detail in the art struck me, and as a result, I learned a cool new word:

  • Ithyphallic: having an erect penis.

So the fellows accompanying Hephaestus are Satyrs, which are almost always depicted ithyphallically, no mystery there. But why (if you'll pardon the mild crudeness) is the mule packing so much wood?

Even when his retinue are portrayed more modestly, the horse's phallus still seems to often be erect and prominent (examples 3, 4 and 5). The first example below is the François Vase, and it portrays many horses, and Hephaestus's is the only one which is ithyphallic, as far as I can tell.

1 - From the François Vase
Hephaestus's return, François Vase
2 -
![Another example
3 -
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4 -
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5 -
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It seems like this is a pretty standard element of the depiction of this story. So why is it typical for Hephaestus's mule to have an erect phallus?

  • Part of the answer might be that many mules/horses are gelded in modern times, although I'm not sure if that is also true in ancient Greece. Also, I'm not sure if we can assume that all of the horses in Greek vases are male -- they might be female (and thus wouldn't have a penis). – user62 Jan 15 '16 at 20:44
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The scene depicted in these vases is "the return of Hephaestus", where after refusing to return to Olympus, Dionysus gets Hephaestus drunk puts him on a mule and carries him to Olympus.

The paintings therefore show a Dionysia parade with all the Phallic symbolism required for this kind of event. The mule is shown engorged along with the rest of the procession, and in one of the vases shown, I believe it is the Francois Vase, a satyr is attempting to have intercourse with the mule.

Hephaestus is basically being taken back through an orgy and everyone, horse included is excited. These paintings show only one portion of Hephaestus' story and are not a common theme throughout his 'Life'

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