From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Hermaphroditos)
Member of the Erotes
AbodeMount Ida
ParentsHermes and Aphrodite
Roman equivalentAtlantius

In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus or Hermaphroditos (/hərˌmæfrəˈdtəs/ ; Ancient Greek: Ἑρμαφρόδιτος, romanizedHermaphróditos, [hermapʰróditos]) was a child of Aphrodite and Hermes. According to Ovid, he was born a remarkably handsome boy whom the naiad Salmacis attempted to rape and prayed to be united with forever. A god, in answer to her prayer, merged their two forms into one and transformed him into a hermaphrodite, he being considered the origin of the name.[a] His name is compounded of his parents' names, Hermes and Aphrodite.[1] He was one of the Erotes.

Because Hermaphroditus was a child of Hermes, and consequently a great-grandchild of Atlas (Hermes's mother Maia was the daughter of Atlas), sometimes he is called Atlantiades (Greek: Ατλαντιάδης).[2]


Hermaphroditos, holding a torch and a kantharos, between Silenus (right) and maenad (left); Roman fresco from the triclinium of the procurator in the Casa del Centenario (IX 8,3–6) in Pompeii

Hermaphroditus, the two-sexed child of Aphrodite and Hermes (Venus and Mercury) had long been a symbol of androgyny or effeminacy, and was portrayed in Greco-Roman art as a female figure with male genitals.[3]

Theophrastus's account also suggests a link between Hermaphroditus and the institution of marriage. The reference to the fourth day of the month is telling: this is the luckiest day to have a wedding. Herm­aphro­ditus's association with marriage seems to have been that, by embodying both masculine and feminine qualities, he symbolized the coming together of men and women in sacred union. Another factor linking Hermaphroditus to weddings was his parents' role in protecting and blessing brides.[4][5]

Hermaphroditus's name is derived from those of their 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.[citation needed]


Ovid's account relates that Hermaphroditus was nursed by naiads in the caves of Mount Ida,[6] 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 child, who was very handsome but still young, and tried to seduce him, but was rejected. When he thought she had left, 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 youth, 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".[7] Hermaphroditus prayed to Hermes and Aphrodite that anyone else who bathed in the pool would be similarly transformed, and his wish was granted.

Hungarian classical philologist Károly Kerényi wrote: "In this form the story was certainly not ancient". He related it to the Greek myths involving male youths (ephebes), noting the legends of Narcissus and Hyacinth, who had archaic hero-cults, and also those involving Hymen (Hymenaios).[8]

Diodorus Siculus, in his work Library of History, mentions that some say that Hermaphroditus is a god and appears at certain times among men, but there are some who declare that such creatures of two sexes are monstrosities, and coming rarely into the world as they do have the quality of presaging the future, sometimes for evil and sometimes for good.[9]

In a description found on the remains of a wall in Halicarnassus, Hermaphroditus' mother, Aphrodite, names Salmacis as the nymph who nursed and took care of an infant Hermaphroditus after being placed in her care, a very different version than the one presented by Ovid.[10]

The satirical author Lucian of Samosata also implies that Hermaphroditus was born like that, rather than becoming later in life against his will, and blames it on the identity of the child's father, Hermes.[11]

Cult and worship[edit]

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 Aphroditus 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.[12][13] A terracotta plaque from the 7th century BC depicting Aphroditos was found in Perachora, which suggests it was an archaic Greek cult.[14]

The deification and the origins of the cult of Hermaphroditus beings stem from Eastern religions, where the hermaphrodite nature expressed the idea of a primitive being that united both sexes. 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.[12][15]

This Cyprian Aphrodite is the same as the later Hermaphroditos, which simply means Aphroditos in the form of a herma, and first occurs in the Characters (16) of Theophrastus.[16] 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.[12]

We find in Alciphron that there was at Athens a temple of Hermaphroditus. The passage proposes that he might be considered as the deity who presided over married people; the strict union between husband and wife being aptly represented by a deity, who was male and female inseparably blended together.[17][clarification needed]

In Greek Anthology, at the chapter in which describe the statues in the Baths of Zeuxippus, it also mention and describe a statue of Hermaphroditus.[18]


Statue of a satyr and Hermaphroditus. Roman copy of the 2nd century CE, after a Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BCE. Antikensammlung Berlin (Altes Museum)

The earliest mention of Hermaphroditus in Greek literature is by the philosopher Theophrastus (3rd century BC), in his book The Characters, XVI The Superstitious Man,[19] in which he portrays various types of eccentric people.

Also on the fourth and seventh days of each month he will order his servants to mull wine, and go out and buy myrtle-wreaths, frankincense, and smilax; and, on coming in, will spend the day in crowning the Hermaphrodites.

The first mention of Hermes and Aphrodite as Hermaphroditus's parents was by the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), in his book Bibliotheca historica, book 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.[20]

The only full narration of his myth is that of Ovid's Metamorphoses, IV.274–388 (8 AD), 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.[21]

A rendering of the story into an epyllion, published anonymously in 1602, was later (1640) attributed by some to Francis Beaumont.[22]

Ausonius in his Epigramata de diversis rebus / Epigrams on various matters (4th century), also tells of Hermaphroditus' parentage and union with the nymph Salmacis.[23]

On Hermaphroditus and his Nature—By Mercury begotten, conceived by Cythera, Hermaphroditus, compound alike in name and frame, combining either sex, complete in neither, neutral in love, unable to enjoy either passion.

On the Union of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus—The nymph Salmacis grew one with the mate she desired. Ah, happy maid, if she is conscious of a man's embrace. And twice happy thou, O youth, united with a lovely bride, if one being may still be two.

In the Palatine Anthology, IX.783 (980 AD), there is a reference to a sculpture of Hermaphroditus which was placed in a bath for both sexes.[24] The passage IX.317 is in dialogue form, based on the dialogue between Hermaphroditus and Silenus. The latter claims that he has had sexual intercourse with Hermaphroditus three times. Hermaphroditus complains and objects to the fact by invoking Hermes in an oath, while Silenus invokes Pan for the reliability of his allegations.[25]

Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem "Hermaphroditus" in Poems and Ballads is subscribed Au Musée du Louvre, Mars 1863, leaving no doubt that it was the Borghese Hermaphroditus that had inspired his ode.[26]

In art[edit]

Drawing of a relief depicting Hermaphroditus and Eros crowning a herm by Antonio Maria Zanetti (circa 1721)
Statue of Hermaphroditus at Bancroft Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
Borghese Hermaphroditus, Roman copy of the 2nd century AD (Louvre)
Hermaphroditus statue from Pergamum, Hellenistic, 3rd century BC (Istanbul)

Paintings and engravings[edit]


Modern popular culture[edit]

  • The myth is the subject of the Genesis song "Fountain of Salmacis", on their 1971 album Nursery Cryme.[31]
  • Atlantiades (another name for Hermaphroditus) is a supporting character for Wonder Woman in the DC Rebirth.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.


  1. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 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."
  2. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 28
  3. ^ Antonio Beccadelli (Eugene Michael O'Connor, tr., ed.) Hermaphroditus: Introduction.
  4. ^ Smith, William, ed. (1890). "Hermaphroditus" . Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (3rd ed.). London: John Murray.
  5. ^ C. Scott Littleton (2005). Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology, Volume 1. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. ISBN 0-7614-7559-1. pp. 666–669, 674
  6. ^ Ovid Alcithoë tells the story of Salmacis in Metamorphoses Book IV, lines 274–316
  7. ^ Ovid Salmacis and Hermaphroditus merge in Metamorphoses Book IV, lines 346–388
  8. ^ Kerenyi, p. 172-3.
  9. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 6. 5
  10. ^ Romano, Allen J. “The Invention of Marriage: Hermaphroditus and Salmacis at Halicarnassus and in Ovid.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 2, [The Classical Association, Cambridge University Press], 2009, pp. 543–61.
  11. ^ Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods Apollo and Dionysus
  12. ^ a b c  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hermaphroditus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 367.
  13. ^ Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1993). Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 495. ISBN 978-0-87542-832-1.
  14. ^ Ustinova, Yulia (1999). The Supreme Gods of the Bosporan Kingdom: Celestial Aphrodite and the Most High God. BRILL. p. 106. ISBN 90-04-11231-6.
  15. ^ Encyclopaedia of the Hellenistic World, Asia Minor: Hermaphroditus – Cult
  16. ^ Encyclopaedia of the Hellenistic World, Asia Minor: Hermaphroditus – Literary sources
  17. ^ Alciphron (1896). Alciphron : literally and completely translated from the Greek, with introduction and notes. Athens : Privately printed for the Athenian Society. p. 142.
  18. ^ Greek Anthology, 2.1
  19. ^ an eudæmonist: The Characters of Theophrastus
  20. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History Book IV 4.6.5 (translated by Charles Henry Oldfather) at Theoi.com
  21. ^ Garth, Sir Samuel Translation of Metamorphoses IV at Wikisource
  22. ^ Salmacis and Hermaphroditus 1602 text, accessed in Renascence Editions at University of Oregon
  23. ^ Ausonius, Epigrams on Various Matters, CII—CIII
  24. ^ The Greek Anthology IX.783
  25. ^ The Greek Anthology IX.317
  26. ^ Swinburne A C Hermaphroditus Library Electronic Text Resource Service (LETRS) / Digital Library Program, Indiana University
  27. ^ Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 21–23 (trans. Rackham): "Engendered from the sea-foam, we are told she [Aphrodite] became the mother by Mercurius [Hermes] of the second Cupidus [literally Eros, but Cicero is probably referring to Hermaphroditos]"
  28. ^ Greek and Hellenistic Lovemaking, Embodying Male and Female Sexuality: Hermaphroditus p. 54
  29. ^ Alpay Pasinli (1989). Istanbul Archaeological Museums. A Turizm Yayinlari. p. 66. ISBN 9789757528142.
  30. ^ At Waymark UK Image Gallery An explanatory plaque is also accessible here.
  31. ^ [1], 'The Fountain of Salmacis' at www.songfacts.com.
  32. ^ Wonder Woman Vol 5 #69

Work cited[edit]


External links[edit]