Modern English Translation

The Latin text contains rather long and convoluted sentences. For example, the first paragraph consists of a single sentence. Here we present a modern English translation. We have tried to remain faithful to the meaning of the text and, to some extent, give an idea of the style. A word of caution is necessary: this version is several steps removed from the original, thus we cannot vouch that it is totally accurate.

We have included omissions from the original Dutch translation suggested by Jean-Marie Pirlot from Neufchâteau, Belgium. M. Pirlot is a Latin scholar and a distinguished amateur mycologist specializing in the Aphyllophorales, especially the Polypores.

Phalli. A description with pictures from life
of the fungi growing occasionally 
in the sand in Holland,
by Hadrianus Junius
physician and author.

A new and previously unknown subject


By Harmann Schinckel, on the corner of Scholar's
Street near the Old Temple. 1564.

(Latin Title Page)


None should doubt that the reproducing powers and majesty of Nature and holy mother Earth give us ample reason for admiration. Consider the immeasurable number of bushes, herbs, and fruits that exist for the benefit and pleasure of the human race. The Almighty most certainly leads us to believe that both Nature and Earth serve the requirements and the needs of the people. Yet numerous (but ungrateful) mortals believe that these bounties have all been used up, as though the objects of previous generosity had been consumed and depleted. But kindness is never ending, whether from the people's own endeavor, as through their culture, or by Nature, which is generous to everyone, always serving, and even obedient. An exception, which gainsays this praise, may be the fact that the seeds of poisonous plants are not very enduring.1

In order for me to praise Nature's generosity, I wish to describe a gift, which is produced in the dunes of our country. It is known to few mortals and, as far as I know, is not mentioned by older or younger authors. I would like to describe this gift of Nature and thereby offer it to posterity, unless representing the male organ is just proof of Nature's playfulness. It is a remarkable blessing for the well being of mankind, for times when people suffer from massive gout and joint diseases2. This knowledge should no longer be hidden because this power to heal, it is said, is very effective for intense and unbearable pains in the joints, above all those, due to passions and limitless debaucheries that exceed the limits of license.

As is widely known, Nature shows her remarkable playfulness in her diversity of forms. In her remarkable ways and in so many complex plant forms, everyone is surprised by her imitations of cymbals, pockets, hoods, cups, beakers, hats, scorpions' tails, fingers, white spots on nails, star beams, and hairs. Nature also imitates various types of fish, nettles, fleas, stars, reed stems, grapes, cucumbers, lungs, or paint brushes. She often reproduces the shape of our plant3 on the Stoechadic Islands (Isles d'Hyeres) on the south coast of France as the marine penis, which, like ours, is swollen when alive and flaccid after death4. I have decided to make this knowledge common property through this publication, in order that others may admire this product of Nature in our country and benefit from it as much as possible. Learned men, who have more opportunity to read various papers and who have a richer gift of perception, should study it more carefully and work out its power. The drawings are by the hand of the excellent Maerten van Heemskerck (the fame of whose paintings reaches the borders of the Earth). My writing is in prose and poetry, as my own eyes perceived it. More than once have I dug the plant from the middle of the reeds. Surely, educated and truth-loving persons who wish to avoid slander will not follow the foolish example of Niger5, who was accused by Dioscorides of basing many statements on loose rumors and stories from people with little reliability, and to entrust them to paper in hasty judgment. But let me return to my case.

It is well known that Holland, once simply the land of the Batavians, increased its western regions near the ocean with dams of sand, with help of the River Rhine and the tidal movements of the sea when the winds blow. The beds of the most important rivers have been blocked and diverted. Dams against the anger of the ocean which otherwise would entirely overflow the fields, seem to have been built by divinity as a defense and restraint from flooding. There is almost nothing there, except undulating sand masses lashed by the storms, threatening the lands with a danger of infertility greater than that from the sea itself. Yet, Nature's providence has reigned, as it were, over the sand and sand-drifts subjected to the whims of the winds. It has subdued and conquered the dunes with an abundant growth of reeds. I refer here to a very hard and sharp kind of reed, called in our language "helm" (marram grass). From the middle of these plants, but especially near older ones, and rarely elsewhere, there often rises a stalk. The reeds make a fence that protects it from passers-by who might step on it, just as the rose is protected by a row of thorns.

The first one of our countrymen to discover this stalk some years ago is, as far as I know, a wagon driver. He limps and his legs are crooked, rather like Vulcan of fable. He often and diligently went hunting for hares living in the reed beds, under protection of the goddess of the hunt. He pointed out to me and Johannes Gallus, a fine physician, a real pleasant spectacle, and a miracle of Nature, which I have often revisited with, learned friends.

I will now describe as clearly and briefly as possible what it looks like. In the middle of the sharp reeds, as I said, close below the surface of the sand, one finds a white round lump, looking like a small ball or tuber in shape and color. Below it is a filament divided in two6 that serves as a root, and which is used, I suppose, to suck up sap7. The lump contains a great deal of tough, sticky thick liquid like mash or slime. It is so heavy that it is heavier than water and approaches the weight of molten lead8. It is also so cold that the lump (which can be properly called a volva using Pliny's terminology) creates a penetrating feeling of coldness when held in the hollow of the hand. When it has just been taken from the soil, it is almost white, soon becoming purple colored with some blood veins run through it9. The filament is different, pale blue, and changes into the black color of clotted blood. The slime I talk about liquefies very quickly and runs off when the volva is pulled from the ground10. Also, the stalk becomes flabby and spreads a very bad odor, which completely fills even a large room11. The volva usually breaks up and splits in the autumn months, depending on the weather conditions, just like a swelling. The straight stalk or shaft then emerges and can be removed without damaging its cover (the volva). The swollen mass of the lump gives the illusion of a scrotum. Let me not hide a fact that I believe to be miraculous or something even beyond that. When the lump has been plucked from the ground, still whole and undamaged before the stalk emerges, and is placed in a cupboard or a corner of the house, the stalk will erupt whole and full-sized after a period of one or two days12. Having heard evidence for this from more than one reliable person, I wanted to do the test myself. I put away two of these lumps in a hidden place in my study and had the truth of this confirmed with my own eyes.

(Click to see original woodcut)

The material of the stalk is fungous, loose, lighter than a feather, spotted, ash-like in color. It has a continuous opening, which is bare, smooth, wider at the bottom, narrower at the top. The stalk is round and gets as long as two palms of the hand; some say they have found them three palms long. The top does not have the hat or cap know in toadstools, but a helmet or bonnet, nearly conical, which can be removed. It has a the shape of the human glans, except that the skin is netted, such as that described for the skin of an elephant or like what one sees on a hedgehog or a cow's stomach, with its net-shaped striations. The top part has more inward-facing wrinkles and an opening from which a strong odor emanates and therefore attracts flies13. The cap has the same color as the stalk. Before I wrote this I had seen a black cap on top of the white stalk, but this must be due to old age, because the white changes into charcoal black when withered. Sometimes the color of the cap turns from ash gray into green, which will then soon turn into brown-yellow14.

So far I have described as truthfully as is possible the appearance of the plant as consisting of a volva, a stalk, and a glans-like helmet. The reason I have called it the Phallus can easily be explained, and should be obvious to anyone who has even approached the boundary of Greece. It is because of the resemblance it has with the object, made of any type of wood or fig tree wood, which was called Phallus or Ithyphallus by the superstitious Phallagogia15. These foolish heathens carried around the object during ceremonial services. What stops us from using a new word in a new context?16 Diverse fungi have been given different names, among them sponges, eggs, finger shapes, or prune-shapes. Anyway, I am not sure that our Phallus falls within the class of the fungi. I will not definitely decide to place it there because I do not want to make a judgment before others who know more about the matter. The lightness, however, and looseness of the substance and (a necessary condition for the existence of sponges) the sour sap of the moist earth where it was born, all bear witness that it belongs to the family of the fungi. However, the folds and creases, which do not exist here, but do among fungi, bear witness against it. There is also no trace of the cap that is normally connected to the stalk. Here the hat takes the place of the cap, and it can be removed without damage. Moreover, the site where it lives also argues against it, because this plant can only be found in dunes, and only there where old marram grass grows. Fungi, on the other hand, as stated clearly by authors, live in swampy, dirty, and rotting moist places, such as close to the roots of oak trees.17

I had gotten this far in my writing when a letter reached me from Petrus Matthiolus18, a prime expert on plants. It was sent to me by Joannes Sambucus Pannonius19, a man of unforgettable learning and highly civilized. While reading the letter with interest, I came upon the mention of Funguscervinus or the deer-fungus.20 I was struck by the news and I immediately hoped that this dealt with the same object as mine. I read it more eagerly than accurately, because, on first impression, it seemed to be similar to our plant. Nevertheless when I read everything again more carefully, it proved to be different. Hunters tell that it originates underground in game parks from the genital seed of deer foiled by the females eluding the violent desire of the males. Ours originates in the dunes just below the surface of the sand in dense marram grass plants that provide the hares with their homes. The other is said to be sought after as a stimulant of the pleasure of love. One guesses that ours, being violently cold is capable of extinguishing the passion of sensuality. The other is described as having some sort of spherical shape like truffles, where ours is more long and round; the other one is black on the outside; ours is spotty and ash colored. What is similar, as the author writes, is that some of his plants have the shape of the erected male phallus. However, what he tells about seeing a bare glans on one side and little round balls on the other is complete lacking in our plants. I would like to add at the end that this tuber or ball that grows out of the marram grass plants and is hidden by them, is called unger eijeren ,which means eggs of the ghosts of evil spirits in the language of the inhabitants of the dunes.


1. The first paragraph ends with a statement that seems difficult to understand (" exception, which denies her this praise, may be the fact that the seeds of poisonous plants are less enduring"). In the introductory article from Den Levende Natuur, the writer comments: "possibly this is meant ironically, in the sense that the author only intends to point out the wise decision by nature to ensure that poison seeds quickly lose the ability to germinate."

2. The belief that stinkhorns help in rheumatism, gout, and other agues endured into the 20th century.

3. In the Renaissance and well into the 20th century, mushrooms were thought to be plants.

4. It would be interesting to figure out why Hadrianus singles out for reference these islands off the coast of the French Riviera. Several marine animals have shapes that qualify them as the "marine penis." Outstanding among them are worm-like members of the genus Priapulus. See

5. Niger was a follower of the Greek physician Asclepiades (c.129 - 40 BC), thus Hadrianus continues here a debate that went on for one and a half millennia.

6. This is a reasonable description of the "egg" stage with its mycelial cords.

7. This is perceptive, because it was far from obvious in Hadrianus' days that fungi were saprobes (i.e., depended on other organisms, mainly plants, for their nutrients).

8. Neither the molten-lead density nor the cold sensation makes sense. What could he have been thinking of? J.-M. Pirlot writes: "It seems to me that this remark is not a real personal observation but that the author was influenced by the Classics who stated: `The mushroom is a plant that is quite cold and humid' (Galen, De Simpl. Medic.). Hadrianus must have known Galen's theory of humors, that all matter consists of four elements, e.g., fire = hot and dry; water = moist and cold; earth = dry and cold. Galen defined mushrooms in this manner: `amongfoods, mushrooms have the coldest humor as well as the most viscous and, at the same time, the thickest.' (Gal.,De Prob. Prav. Succ.) Its nature, close to that of phlegm, explains its noxious and dangerous character. Terms such as `sticky thick liquid', `liquidlike smash or slime', `heavier than water ... and ... so cold....', `very quickly becomes liquid' represent the usual coupling of opposites used to define matter, cold vs. hot, humid vs. dry, liquid vs. solid, heavy vs. light, thick vs. fluid, obscure vs. clear, etc. According to this principle, living things reflect the site where they live, thus `fungi... exist in swampy, dirty and through rotting moist places....' It seems to me that Hadrianus insists on the qualities cold, weight, humidity, thickness, which are those that may cause disease. One can see how an objective and scientific observation may be influenced by the ideology of the past."

9. This is accurate, as the peridium (skin) covering the "egg" of P. hadriani starts out white, then becomes pink to purplish.

10. The slimy spore mass (gleba) does deliquesce in time, but not as the result of "the covering being pulled from the ground."

11. The smell becomes noticeable before the stem becomes flabby.

12. This is accurate. When stinkhorn "eggs" are placed in a moist environment, they rapidly "mature" into stinkhorns. This is quite remarkable even to modern eyes. The speed of elongation of the stipe of P. impudicus has been clocked at six to eight inches in two or three hours (Lees, quoted by Rolfe and Rolfe).

13. This is quite accurate, except that the odor does not emanate from the orifice but from the spore mass. Not knowing about spores and their dispersal, Hadrianus could not attribute a special significance to the presence of the flies.

14. The cap of P. hadriani is uniformly greenish early on, when the spore mass is intact. The variety of colors probably refers to stages in maturation, especially after the spore mass has been removed by insects or slugs.

15. "Phallologia" is what the ancient Greek called the Procession of the Phallus (courtesy of J.-M. Pirlot). As Hadrianus mentions a giant image of a phallus was solemnly paraded and venerated during certain holidays. Ithyphallus, by the way, means "erected phallus", and was used in the past for this genus.

16. One admires Hadrianus' self-control!

17. This is a careful approach as to whether Phallus is a fungus, with suitable arguments for and against the notion.

18. Matthiolus(Pier Andrea Mattioli) (1501-1577) was an Italian physician, known chiefly for a successful book on Dioscorides' work for use by physicians and herbalists in which mushrooms are mentioned and illustrated.

19. Johannes Sambucus (1531-1584), a Hungarian physician and historian, published Emblemata, a book of symbolic pictures in 1564 (the same year Phalli.... appeared). One year later, in 1565, Hadrianus also published such a book. Thus, it is not surprising that the two corresponded with one another. Means of communication were sufficiently effective to permit correspondence between the Netherlands, Hungary, and Italy.

20. Jean-Marie Pirlot suggests that this refers to Elaphomyces granulatus Fr.:Fr., a hypogeous truffle-like ascomycete and its parasite, Cordyceps capitata (Holmsk.: Fr.) Link. The common name for this non-edible combination is "deer-truffle." Matthiolus, Hadrianus correspondent, could not have know that this is a complex of two fungi, not just one.

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