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[[Herculaneum fresco 1-50 AD, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.|250px]]
Herculaneum fresco 1-50 AD, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

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In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus or Hermaphroditos (Greek: Template:Polytonic) was the child of Aphrodite and Hermes. He was a minor deity of bisexuality and effeminacy. According to Ovid he merged bodies with a water nymph, becoming a creature of both sexes. His name is the basis for the word hermaphrodite.


Hermaphroditus, the two-sexed son of Aphrodite and Hermes (Venus and Mercury) had long been a symbol of bisexuality or effeminacy, and was portrayed in Greco-Roman art as a female figure with male genitals.[1]

Ovid's account relates that Hermaphroditus was nursed by naiads in the caves of Mount Ida,[2] 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 the nymph Salmacis 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 form, "a creature of both sexes".[3] Hermaphroditus prayed to Hermes and Aphrodite that anyone else who bathed in the pool would be similarly transformed, and his wish was granted.

Cult and worshipEdit

The oldest traces of the cult in Greek countries are found in Cyprus. Here, according to Macrobius (Saturnalia, iii. 8) there was a bearded statue of a male aphrodite, called Aphroditos by Aristophanes. Philochorus in his Atthis (ap. Macrobius loc. cit.) further identified this divinity, at whose sacrifices men and women exchanged garments, with the moon. This double sex also attributed to Dionysus and Priapus - the union in one being of the two principles of generation and conception - denotes extensive fertilizing and productive powers. This Cyprian Aphrodite is the same as the later Hermaphroditos, which simply means Aphroditos in the form of a herm (see Hermae), and first occurs in the Characteres (16) of Theophrastus. After its introduction at Athens (probably in the 5th century BC), the importance of this deity seems to have declined. It appears no longer as the object of a special cult, but limited to the homage of certain sects, expressed by superstitious rites of obscure significance.[4]


Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica IV 4.6.5 : "Hermaphroditus, as he has been called, who was born of Hermes and Aphrodite and received a name which is a combination of those of both his parents. Some say that this Hermaphroditus is a god and appears at certain times among men, and that he is born with a physical body which is a combination of that of a man and that of a woman, in that he has a body which is beautiful and delicate like that of a woman, but has the masculine quality and vigour of a man. But there are some who declare that such creatures of two sexes are monstrosities, and coming rarely into the world as they do they have the quality of presaging the future, sometimes for evil and sometimes for good." [5]

Ovid's Metamorphoses, IV.274-388, where the emphasis is on the feminine snares of the lascivious water-nymph Salmacis and her compromising of Hermaphroditus' erstwhile budding manly strength, detailing his bashfulness and the engrafting of their bodies.[6]

Francis Beaumont A rendering of the story into an epyllion, published anonymously in 1602, was later (1640) attributed by some to Francis Beaumont.[7]

Algernon Charles 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.[8]

In artEdit

File:Hermaphroditus Louvre face.jpg
File:IAM 363T - Hermaphroditus statue.jpg


  • In Greek vase painting Hermaphroditus was depicted as a winged youth (erotes) with male and female attributes.[9]



  • The myth was the basis for the early Genesis song, "The Fountain of Salmacis," the final track from the Nursery Cryme album (1971).


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.[12]

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".[13]


  1. Hermaphroditus, by Antonio Beccadelli, Eugene Michael O'Connor Google Books
  2. Ovid Alcithoë tells the story of Salmacis in Metamorphoses Book IV, lines 274-316
  3. Ovid Salmacis and Hermaphroditus merge in Metamorphoses Book IV, lines 346-388
  4. LoveToKnow 1911 Classic Encyclopedia - Hermaphroditus
  5. Diodorus Siculus, Library of History Book IV 4.6.5 (translated by Charles Henry Oldfather) at
  6. Garth, Sir Samuel Translation of Metamorphoses IV at Wikisource
  7. Salmacis and Hermaphroditus 1602 text, accessed in Renascence Editions at University of Oregon
  8. Swinburne A C Hermaphroditus Library Electronic Text Resource Service (LETRS) / Digital Library Program, Indiana University
  9. Hermaphroditos: Greek god of effeminates and hermaphrodites
  10. Greek and Hellenistic Lovemaking, Embodying Male and Female Sexuality: Hermaphroditus Google Books
  11. At Waymark UK Image Gallery An explanatory plaque is also accessible here.
  12. A video clip from the film Fellini Satyricon when protagonists gather to see Hermaphroditus seeking a cure -
  13. Fellini-Satyricon by Federico Fellini (1968) -- Why are classicists like directors?(The student author's name is absent from the cited opinion.)


External linksEdit

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