Who's the bald guy about to get arrested in the Dutch tavern? That's obvious, St. Peter, of course. The Renaissance painter didn't know what ancient Palestine looked like, but he knew taverns. Anyway, his patrons were sensible business types who preferred the familiar to the exotic anyway.
At that time in my childhood--I forget how long ago that was--when I began to consider questions of a theoretical nature, there were two questions concerning St. Peter which seemed too trivial to deserve curiosity, but which I could neither answer nor forget. Those who were wise enough to answer them, I suspected, would consider such questions either too trivial or too improper for discussion.
The questions were, why is St. Peter so often pictured as bald, and why is the saint's name traditionally identified with the male sexual organ? I neve did hear an explanation, but when they both recurred to me recently, I discovered that I knew the answer to both, that they were connected and mutually explanatory, and that they were in fact easily read by one who has studied the language of myth and archetype.
St. Peter was probably a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, at the time of the crucifixion, but he is often portrayed as bald and middle-aged. Apparently he is pictured as middle-aged as an explanation for the baldness, rather than the reverse. But why bald? Tradition, of course, supplies a certain amount of background to the Bible, some of it of no great significance--the names of the Wise Men, for instance. This, however, is different. The Wise Men would obviously have to be named something. Baldness is a peculiarity, frequently a matter for ridicule. The only person in the Bible actually stated to be bald is the prophet Elisha, who suffered ridicule from children, and was avenged by she-bears. (Jehovah obviously lacks a sense of proportion.) St. Peter's baldness, however, has always passed without comment.
Peter's name, of course, was not actually "Peter," but "Simon." According to the gospel, Jesus gave him the nickname, which means "rock" in Greek, because he was the rock upon which Christ was to build his church. Peter is bald partially because he is a rock; he had been petrified. The symbolic connection between rock and phallus is too well known to need further comment. However, what is less frequently pointed out, though still obvious, is that it is only the erect phallus which is rock-like.
Baldness and lechery have an association of long standing, though whether it is based partially on actual behaviour, or whether it is entirely a matter of mental association between the bald head and that other bald head, the phallus, I cannot say. In any case, the association is an old one. One sign of the Monk's lechery in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is his baldness, and more recently, it is a standard cliche that the front rows at a burlesque show are filled with bald heads. I cannot verify or deny this observation, since I have never been to a burlesque show. The fact that the observation is made, however, is more significant than its accuracy.
Peter, however, is more than the rock; he is also the keeper of the keys--in popular tradition, the doorkeeper who holds the keys to paradise. "Key" and "lock" are, of course, old, common, and obvious sexual symbols. St. Peter's key is even more obvious than most, since it is the key to paradise, and the concept of paradise is inevitably connected in the human mind with sexual fulfillment. It is not surprising that a great many dirty jokes are centered on Peter's role as heavenly gatekeeper.
Here is a key behaving in a more suggestive manner than it probably intends, but that's the nature of keys.
How many stories from the Middle Ages on have there been of walled pleasure gardens with a single door and key? And, in every case, the promise of unearthly delight has proved an illusion. Perhaps the garden is the invention of a wicked enchantress to trap and imprison knights (Ariosto, Spenser, et.al.); perhaps, as in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappachini's Daughter," the contents of the garden, and even the maiden in it are deadly poison; perhaps, as in Chaucer's story of Old January and Young May, an intruder penetrates the garden and seduces the woman it was intended to guard. Or, to be more contemporary, I will quote Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Here is Murray the cop on the advantages of joining the Playboy Club:
For twenty-five dollars they give you a key--and you walk into Paradise. My keys cost thirty cents--and you walk into corned beef and cabbage. (Act II, scene i)
Poor Murray; he is as deluded as Old January. There is only one Paradise, and door, and one set of keys, and these belong to St. Peter, and are reserved for people who do not join the Playboy Club.
This particular role of Peter's is an especially dynamic one in Christianity, for of all religions, Christianity is most emphatically the religion of pleasure deferred. On earth one is to live a life of self denial, so that he can experience the complete fulfillment of the next life. ("Pie in the sky when you die," is how some bad mannered cynics would put it.) It is hardly surprising that the language of religious mysticism relies so heavily on sexual imagery and symbolism.
Why does Roman Catholicism forbid its priests to marry? Protestants rightly observe that the rule is not scriptural. Catholics would probably argue that marriage would interfere with spiritual and clerical obligations, and that the rule is useful, whether scriptural or not. A more important reason, however, is that, since Christianity insists that life on earth is self-denial and death release, spiritual guides above all must postpone fulfillment. The followers of the phallic apostle will have their release in heaven. It is strikingly appropriate that monks shave the top of their heads.
All hats have phallic associations. Illustrations from both literature and the writings of psychologists are so abundant that it seems hardly worth quoting examples. The two that come most quickly to mind are first the oddly phallic hat of Chico Marx, whose very name came from his enthusiasm for good-looking women, and second the little boy in the fairy tale, "The Goose Girl." In this story, the boy, enamored of the girl's hair, tries to grab some of it, but is frustrated by a breeze the girl calls up to blow his hat away. The sexual implications of hair are also well known. Two oddly similar uses of cutting hair as symbolic rape are Alexander Pope's "Rape of the Lock," and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Bernice Bobs her Hair."
But if all hats are phallic, clerical ones are especially so. Consider a bishop's mitre. Look at a standard chess set; all the pieces appear more or less phallic, but which is most obviously so? And, as we might expect, the Pope, the ultimate priest, also has the ultimate hat. It is called a triple crown, but is not our ordinary conception of a crown; rather it is a huge and bulbous hat.
It is also appropriate that St. Peter's Cathedral, the focal point of the religion of Peter, should have as its most striking feature a huge oval piazza with a towering obalisk at its center, a symbol both of the nature and the promise of the phallic apostle.
St. Peter and his successors are not the only phallic beings in the Christian universe--
there is also the devil, the advocate of present pleasure, whose favorite and most common temptations are sexual, who delights in smutty stories and obscene gestures, whose other natue is the phallic serpent, and who has both horns and a long, dangling tail. But against his promise of pleasure now stands St. Peter and his upright descendants, prophets of pleasure deferred.
To conclude, Peter is bald because he is the phallic apostle, the apostle who is rock, is key, is founder of the church of pleasure deferred. The association between name and sexual organ is neither accidental nor sacriligious, but an exact statement of the most striking and peculiar element of Christianity, and an illustration of the profound intuition of the collective unconscious.
A Few Brief Notes
About the time I was finishing this essay a Catholic friend of mine told me that there was a plastic dashboard ornament popular with some Catholics that represented St. Peter as a phallus. Unfortunately I haven't seen it.
There actually was at least one classic garden paradise--that of the Old Man of the Mountain who lived in the Middle East during the time of the crusades, and created it as a reward for the assassins and terrorists he sent out against his enemies. Times have not changed so much.
"The Rape of the Lock" has been a curse to countless high school English teachers who have to explain to hormonal boys that the title does not mean what it sounds like it does, a feat made more difficult by the fact that it does mean that, at least on one level.