From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, Hermaphroditus (Beccadelli)

In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus or Hermaphroditos was the child of Aphrodite and Hermes. Born a remarkably handsome boy, he was transformed into an androgynous being by union with the nymph Salmacis. (The seer Tiresias had experienced life as a man and as a woman, but not the two at the same time: Hermaphroditus is unique in Greek myth.) His name is the basis for the word hermaphrodite.



Hermaphroditus's name is derived from those of his parents Hermes and Aphrodite. (All three of these gods figure largely among erotic and fertility figures, and all possess distinctly sexual overtones. Sometimes, Hermaphroditus is referred to as Aphroditus. The phallic god Priapus was the son of Hermes in some accounts, and the youthful god of desire Eros of Hermes and Aphrodite.) He was raised by nymphs on Mount Ida, a sacred mountain in Phrygia (present day Turkey). At the age of fifteen, he grew bored with his surroundings and traveled to the cities of Lycia and Caria. It was in the woods of Caria, near Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey) that he encountered Salmacis the Naiad in her pool. She was overcome by lust for the boy, and tried to seduce him, but was rejected. When he thought her to be gone, Hermaphroditus undressed and entered the waters of the empty pool. Salmacis sprang out from behind a tree and jumped into the pool. She wrapped herself around the boy, forcibly kissing him and touching his breast. While he struggled, she called out to the gods that they should never part. Her wish was granted, and their bodies blended into one intersex form. Hermaphroditus, in his shame and grief, made his own vow, cursing the pool so that anyone else who bathed in it would be transformed as well. "In this form the story was certainly not ancient," Karl Kerenyi noted. He compared the myth of the beautiful ephebe with Narcissus and Hyacinthus, who had an archaic hero-cult, and Hymenaios.


His only literary attestation in classical literature is in Ovid's Metamorphoses, IV.274-388. Based on Ovid's telling, Francis Beaumont wrote an epyllion in heroic couplets of the story, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (London 1602).

Algernon Swinburne's poem "Hermaphroditus" is subscribed Au Musée du Louvre, Mars 1863, leaving no doubt that it was the Borghese Hermaphroditus that had inspired his ode, a poem to which Victorian reviewers took offence:

To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?



A persona named 'Hermaphroditus' appears in the film Fellini Satyricon as a childlike, physically weak god who is able to heal human supplicants afflicted by various ailments but apparently unable to heal him/herself. No connection is made with the character's sexuality.

Hermaphroditus is not mentioned in the original Petronius novel Satyricon, on which Fellini's film is loosely based. According to one source, the film episode "may be based on a Pseudo-Petronian poem sometimes printed along with the Satyricon".

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hermaphroditus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools