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Minor deity of unions, androgyny, marriage, sexuality and fertility
Abode Mount Ida
Symbol Thyrsus, Kantharos
Consort Silenus, Maenad, Satyrs
Parents Hermes and Aphrodite
Siblings Eros/Cupid, Harmonia/Concordia, Phobos, Deimos, Pan, Priapus, Tyche

In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus or Hermaphroditos (Ancient Greek: Ἑρμαφρόδιτος) was the son of Aphrodite and Hermes. According to Ovid, born a remarkably handsome boy, he was transformed into an androgynous being by union with the water nymph Salmacis.[1] His name is the basis for the word hermaphrodite.


  • Symbolism 1
  • Mythology 2
  • Cult and worship 3
  • Literature 4
  • In art 5
    • Painting 5.1
    • Sculpture 5.2
    • Music 5.3
    • Film 5.4
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


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.[2]

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.[3][4]

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.


Ovid's account relates that Hermaphroditus was nursed by naiads in the caves of Mount Ida,[5] 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, who was very handsome but still young, 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".[6] Hermaphroditus prayed to Hermes and Aphrodite that anyone else who bathed in the pool would be similarly transformed, and his wish was granted. "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.[7]

Cult and worship

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.[8] A terracotta plaque from the 7th century BC depicting Aphroditos was found in Perachora, which suggests it was an archaic cult.[9]

The deification and the origins of the cult of hermaphrodite beings stem from Eastern religions, where the hermaphrodite nature expressed the idea of a primitive being that united both genders. 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.[10]

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 Characters (16) of Theophrastus.[11] 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.[13]


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,[14] in which he portrays various types of eccentric people.

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.[15]

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.[16]

A rendering of the story into an epyllion, published anonymously in 1602, was later (1640) attributed by some to Francis Beaumont.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

  • Hermaphroditos at Theoi Project
  • Hermaphroditus at Greek Mythology Link
  • Hermaphroditus at Encyclopædia Britannica Online

The dictionary definition of Hermaphroditus at Wiktionary

External links

  • Clarke, John R. (1998). Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250. University of California Press. pp. 49–54.  
  • Grimal, Pierre (1996). The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 209.  
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1951). The Gods of the Greeks. London: Thames & Hudson. 
  • Seyffert, Oskar (1894). Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. London: S. Sonnenschein and Co.; New York: Macmillan and Co. 
  • Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 
  • Siculus, Diodorus (1814). The Historical Library of Diodorus the Sicilian: In Fifteen Books. W. McDowall. p. 223. 


  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.
  2. ^ Antonio Beccadelli (Eugene Michael O'Connor, tr., ed.) Hermaphroditus: Introduction.
  3. ^   
  4. ^ C. Scott Littleton (2005). , Volume 1Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. ISBN 0-7614-7559-1. pp. 666–669, 674
  5. ^ Ovid Alcithoë tells the story of Salmacis in Metamorphoses Book IV, lines 274-316
  6. ^ Ovid Salmacis and Hermaphroditus merge in Metamorphoses Book IV, lines 346-388
  7. ^ Kerenyi, p. 172.
  8. ^ Three books of occult philosophy by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1993) p. 495
  9. ^ The supreme gods of the Bosporan Kingdom: Celestial Aphrodite and the Most High God p. 106
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia of the Hellenistic World, Asia Minor: Hermaphroditus - Cult
  11. ^ Encyclopaedia of the Hellenistic World, Asia Minor: Hermaphroditus - Literary sources
  12. ^ , 1911: HermaphroditusEncyclopaedia Britannica
  13. ^ Alciphron (1896). Alciphron : literally and completely translated from the Greek, with introduction and notes. Athens : Privately printed for the Athenian Society. p. 142. 
  14. ^ an eudæmonist: The Characters of Theophrastus
  15. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History Book IV 4.6.5 (translated by Charles Henry Oldfather) at
  16. ^ Garth, Sir Samuel Translation of Metamorphoses IV at Wikisource
  17. ^ Salmacis and Hermaphroditus 1602 text, accessed in Renascence Editions at University of Oregon
  18. ^ IX.783The Greek Anthology
  19. ^ IX.317The Greek Anthology
  20. ^ Swinburne A C Hermaphroditus Library Electronic Text Resource Service (LETRS) / Digital Library Program, Indiana University
  21. ^ Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 21-23 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) : "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]"
  22. ^ Greek and Hellenistic Lovemaking, Embodying Male and Female Sexuality: Hermaphroditus p. 54
  23. ^ Alpay Pasinli (1989). Istanbul Archaeological Museums. A Turizm Yayinlari. p. 66. 
  24. ^ At Waymark UK Image Gallery An explanatory plaque is also accessible here.
  25. ^ A video clip from the film Fellini Satyricon when protagonists gather at the temple seeking a cure
  26. ^ Fellini-Satyricon by Federico Fellini (1968) -- Why are classicists like directors? Francesca D'Alessandro Behr, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, University of Houston


See also

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".[26]

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.[25]




  • In Greek vase painting Hermaphroditus was depicted as a winged youth (erotes) with male and female attributes.[21]
  • Roman frescos found at Pompeii and Herculaneum show Hermaphroditus in various styles, alone and interacting with satyrs, Pan and Silenus.[22]


Hermaphroditus statue from Pergamum, Hellenistic, 3rd century BC (Istanbul).

In art


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