Anyone who has seen classical statues of male nudes, such as Michelangelo’s statue of David, would have noticed that they have quite small penises. Nowadays, this is often the subject of humor, such as Stephen Colbert recently showing an image of the statue and then commenting that it must have been quite cold when David posed.
Although the Bible gives quite detailed information of the dimensions of Noah’s Ark, the book is silent about the size of David’s genitals, thus giving the artist freedom to make them any size he wished. Given that Michelangelo was trying to portray a heroic figure, one might have wondered why he was not more generous with David.
Kali Holloway explains why. After providing a gallery of portraits of classical male nudes that are similar to David, she quotes Ellen Oredsson, an art historian and head curator at Bangkok’s Rock Around Asia gallery, who explains that the idea that large penis size corresponds to male virility, strength, and sexual prowess is a fairly recent development.
Today, big penises are seen as valuable and manly, but back then, most evidence points to the fact that small penises were considered better than big ones. One of the reasons historians, such as Kenneth Dover in his landmark book Greek Homosexuality, have suggested that small penises were more culturally valued is that large penises were associated with very specific characteristics: foolishness, lust and ugliness… Meanwhile, the ideal Greek man was rational, intellectual and authoritative. He may still have had a lot of sex, but this was unrelated to his penis size, and his small penis allowed him to remain coolly logical… The ancient Romans might have been more positive towards large penises, but their sculptures continue the trend of small penises. Later, in Renaissance art, sculptors were very specifically influenced by ancient Greek art and their small penis size.
So there you have it. It is always satisfying to clear up these little mysteries.