We all go through trials in life, and when we do, we all have certain things that we turn to for comfort. Alcohol. Pizza. Watching the same television series over and over again on repeat. Googling ways to assume a new identity and move abroad. And, of course, good friends. Putting aside for a moment my assumed jadedness, I can honestly say that there have been many times in my life that I may not have gotten through if it hadn’t been for my friends. A good friend can offer invaluable support and solace. What’s more, friends can come in many different forms: your best friend IRL (as the kids say), a friend made online, a pet, or even a Goddess of Mirth who constantly flashes her vulva for a good laugh.
We’ve all heard of Priapus, a fertility god who had the misfortune (?) of forever walking around with an oversized, erect phallus. Priapus, unfortunately, was not a particularly good friend. Cursed by Hera in revenge for some slight perpetuated by his mother, Aphrodite (the nature of the slight, like many things in Greek mythology, depends upon the teller), Priapus found amusement in an activity also enjoyed by many of his fellow Greek immortals — attempted rape. In other words, not the first friend one would turn to in a time of need.
Baubo, meanwhile, is a different story. A Goddess of Mirth who appears primarily in the early Orphic stories, her main hobby is showing off her genitalia in order to give everyone a good time. A symbol of bawdy, sexually-liberated humor, she is depicted as either an old woman showing off her genitalia (or touching it) or as a walking, headless torso with the face located roughly in the stomach area and the vulva serving as a chin. Who couldn’t help but be cheered up by that?
Baubo’s main claim to fame is cheering up someone who was seemingly beyond joy: Demeter, post-the abduction of her daughter Persephone by Hades, God of the Underworld. Demeter, who was so despondent that she ate the shoulder of Tantalus’ murdered son, Pelops, at a feast. Not deterred by this dinner faux pas, Baubo invites Demeter to sup with her. The following is best told by Clement of Alexandria:
“Baubo, having received Demeter as a guest, offers her a draught of wine and meal. She declines to take it, being unwilling to drink on account of her mourning. Baubo is deeply hurt, thinking she has been slighted, and thereupon uncovers her secret parts and exhibits them to the goddess. Demeter is pleased at the sight, and now at least receives the draught, — delighted by the spectacle!”
Though, from a modern perspective, it may be difficult to understand how a friend flashing you would cheer you up after the kidnapping of your daughter, we have to give Baubo credit where credit is due. After all, it worked, and it brought Demeter a moment of respite in a time of grave sorrow. We must also give credit to Clement of Alexandria, a Christian writer who, in preserving many ancient Greek stories that may have been lost otherwise, failed marvelously in his goal of promoting Christianity. Thanks, Clem!
So, when you are next feeling down, think of good old Baubo. Think about how she was a symbol of sexual freedom for women. Think about how some statuettes of Baubo have loops moulded into the top, suggesting that people wore them as necklaces. Think of how, against all odds, she cheered up Demeter by flaunting her vulva. If only we could all be so lucky in our choice of friends.