Yes, you read that right, apparently 93 is ‘the’ magic number! Not my own personal tally, you understand (ahem!), but the actual number of penises on the Bayeux Tapestry. And each one all present and erect according to eminent scholar Professor George Garnett of Oxford University, no less. Now you may have been brought up thinking that the Tapestry merely depicted the Norman Invasion of 1066, with William the Conqueror gallivanting about on his horse in the process of winning battle, but you would be wrong. The question is, does the presence of so many large visual penis representations (be they both man or horse), indicate a very different sort of gallivanting, or something else entirely. Well, being a bit of medieval history buff myself, and of course a fan of all things phallic, this obviously fascinated me!
To Prof. Garnett, the implication is clear, not just the possibility of adolescent amusement among the artists of the day, but more a clear message to the ‘viewer’ in relation to “betrayal and deceit” as shown by the invasion. However, I might suggest otherwise. To take a slightly alternate (and infinitely darker) tack, this generalised assumption misses the somewhat obvious. Since the beginning of warfare, conflict has been characterised by the sexual domination of the conquered. From the systematic assaults on German women by Soviet troops during WWII, to the terrible events in the former Yugoslavia, rape has long been a ‘weapon’ of war. A dreadful way to frighten and consequently subdue the newly occupied population. Not for nothing is the male member a symbol of power. And in a tapestry depicting a very real and bloody war, it is not too big a leap to suggest the presence of so many penises, all seemingly erect and ‘ready for action’, has an altogether more threatening intention in its message to the viewer of the day. We must never assume we ‘know’ the true meaning behind historical objects, but taken in context, the Tapestry clearly illustrates the conquering of a nation, so it would not too big a leap to assume the suggestion (subliminal or otherwise) of other sorts of ‘conquests’ too. And when viewed in this way, the Bayeux Tapestry suddenly moves from a delightful and attractive historical artwork, to maybe something infinitely nastier with perhaps an even truer reflection of the horrors of war.
Then again.. it could just be a simpler and entirely more basic message to the masses, merely extolling the genital superiority of the invaders, and illustrating that the foreign penis is indeed mightier than the sword.. or indeed the locals! ;-)
~ Riven Peake