Salmacis and Hermaphroditus  

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

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus is a tale from book 4 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. It concerns Hermaphroditus a remarkably handsome boy and Salmacis, a lustful nymph. Salmacis tried to seduce him and while he was swimming 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. His name is the basis for the word hermaphrodite.

The tale has been depicted occasionally in the 16th century and beyond by

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus[1] (c. 1585) is a painting by Spranger.

The tale of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis was portrayed occasionally in Renaissance and Neoclassical art. Among the depictions are the following Jan Mabuse, The Metamorphosis of Hermaphroditus and the Nymph Salmacis[2] (1505), Bartholomaeus Spranger, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus[3] (1585), Francesco Albani, Salmacis Falling in Love with Hermaphroditus and Salmacis Kissing Hermaphroditus in the Water, and François-Joseph Navez, The Nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus [4](1829). "[5]

Which Albani is which?[6], [7], [8]

In the Metamorphoses

translation by Dryden

The story of Salamacis and Hermaphroditus

How Salmacis, with weak enfeebling streams Softens the body, and unnerves the limbs, And what the secret cause, shall here be shown; The cause is secret, but th' effect is known.

The Naids nurst an infant heretofore, That Cytherea once to Hermes bore: From both th' illustrious authors of his race The child was nam'd, nor was it hard to trace Both the bright parents thro' the infant's face. When fifteen years in Ida's cool retreat The boy had told, he left his native seat, And sought fresh fountains in a foreign soil: The pleasure lessen'd the attending toil, With eager steps the Lycian fields he crost, A river here he view'd so lovely bright, It shew'd the bottom in a fairer light, Nor kept a sand conceal'd from human sight. The stream produc'd nor slimy ooze, nor weeds, Nor miry rushes, nor the spiky reeds; But dealt enriching moisture all around, The fruitful banks with chearful verdure crown'd, And kept the spring eternal on the ground. A nymph presides, not practis'd in the chace, Nor skilful at the bow, nor at the race; Of all the blue-ey'd daughters of the main, The only stranger to Diana's train: Her sisters often, as 'tis said, wou'd cry, "Fie Salmacis: what, always idle! fie. Or take thy quiver, or thy arrows seize, And mix the toils of hunting with thy ease." Nor quiver she nor arrows e'er wou'd seize, Nor mix the toils of hunting with her ease. But oft would bathe her in the chrystal tide, Oft with a comb her dewy locks divide; Now in the limpid streams she views her face, And drest her image in the floating glass: On beds of leaves she now repos'd her limbs, Now gather'd flow'rs that grew about her streams, And then by chance was gathering, as he stood To view the boy, and long'd for what she view'd.

Fain wou'd she meet the youth with hasty feet, She fain wou'd meet him, but refus'd to meet Before her looks were set with nicest care, And well deserv'd to be reputed fair. "Bright youth," she cries, "whom all thy features prove A God, and, if a God, the God of love; But if a mortal, blest thy nurse's breast, Blest are thy parents, and thy sisters blest: But oh how blest! how more than blest thy bride, Ally'd in bliss, if any yet ally'd. If so, let mine the stoln enjoyments be; If not, behold a willing bride in me."

The boy knew nought of love, and toucht with shame, He strove, and blusht, but still the blush became: In rising blushes still fresh beauties rose; The sunny side of fruit such blushes shows, And such the moon, when all her silver white Turns in eclipses to a ruddy light. The nymph still begs, if not a nobler bliss, A cold salute at least, a sister's kiss: And now prepares to take the lovely boy Between her arms. He, innocently coy, Replies, "Or leave me to my self alone, You rude uncivil nymph, or I'll be gone." "Fair stranger then," says she, "it shall be so"; And, for she fear'd his threats, she feign'd to go: But hid within a covert's neighbouring green, She kept him still in sight, herself unseen. The boy now fancies all the danger o'er, And innocently sports about the shore, Playful and wanton to the stream he trips, And dips his foot, and shivers as he dips. The coolness pleas'd him, and with eager haste His airy garments on the banks he cast; His godlike features, and his heav'nly hue, And all his beauties were expos'd to view. His naked limbs the nymph with rapture spies, While hotter passions in her bosom rise, Flush in her cheeks, and sparkle in her eyes. She longs, she burns to clasp him in her arms, And looks, and sighs, and kindles at his charms.

Now all undrest upon the banks he stood, And clapt his sides, and leapt into the flood: His lovely limbs the silver waves divide, His limbs appear more lovely through the tide; As lillies shut within a chrystal case, Receive a glossy lustre from the glass. He's mine, he's all my own, the Naid cries, And flings off all, and after him she flies. And now she fastens on him as he swims, And holds him close, and wraps about his limbs. The more the boy resisted, and was coy, The more she clipt, and kist the strugling boy. So when the wrigling snake is snatcht on high In Eagle's claws, and hisses in the sky, Around the foe his twirling tail he flings, And twists her legs, and wriths about her wings.

The restless boy still obstinately strove To free himself, and still refus'd her love. Amidst his limbs she kept her limbs intwin'd, "And why, coy youth," she cries, "why thus unkind! Oh may the Gods thus keep us ever join'd! Oh may we never, never part again!"

So pray'd the nymph, nor did she pray in vain: For now she finds him, as his limbs she prest, Grow nearer still, and nearer to her breast; 'Till, piercing each the other's flesh, they run Together, and incorporate in one: Last in one face are both their faces join'd, As when the stock and grafted twig combin'd Shoot up the same, and wear a common rind: Both bodies in a single body mix, A single body with a double sex.

The boy, thus lost in woman, now survey'd The river's guilty stream, and thus he pray'd. (He pray'd, but wonder'd at his softer tone, Surpriz'd to hear a voice but half his own.) You parent-Gods, whose heav'nly names I bear, Hear your Hermaphrodite, and grant my pray'r; Oh grant, that whomsoe'er these streams contain, If man he enter'd, he may rise again Supple, unsinew'd, and but half a man!

The heav'nly parents answer'd from on high, Their two-shap'd son, the double votary Then gave a secret virtue to the flood, And ting'd its source to make his wishes good.

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