Hermaphroditus

She-males have always fascinated people. Here is the Sleeping Hermaphroditus, obviously feminine:

File:Hermaphroditus Louvre face.jpg

And here is the other side:

File:Borghese Hermaphroditus Louvre Ma231 n4.jpg

This is a Roman copy of a Greek bronze from the 2d century BCE. From Pliny’s Natural History: Beyond those Nasamones, and their neighbours confining them (the Machlyes) there bee found ordinarily Hermaphrodites, called Androgyni, of a double nature, and resembling both sexes, male and female, who have carnall knowledge one of another interchangeably by turns, as Caliphanes doth report. Aristotle saith moreover, that on the right side of their breast they have a little teat or nipple like a man, but on the left side they have a full pap or dug like a woman.

Copies of the statue were made or acquired by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and Philip IV of Spain, and for the Palace of Versailles: nothing queer about these people. Perish the thought.

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3Oh, those wacky Ancient Romans! Caligula paid no attention to traditional or current fashions in his dress; ignoring male conventions and even the human decencies. Often he made public appearances in a cloak covered with embroidery and encrusted with precious stones, a long-sleeved tunic and bracelets; or in silk (which men were forbidden by law to wear) or even in a woman’s robe; and came shod sometimes with slippers, sometimes with buskins, sometimes with military boots, sometimes with women’s shoes. Occasionally he affected a golden beard and carried Jupiter’s thunderbolt, Neptune’s trident, or Mercury’s serpent-twined staff. He even dressed up as Venus. I have already commented on Elagabala.

Algernon Charles Swinburne:

Love, is it love or sleep or shadow or light
That lies between thine eyelids and thine eyes?
Like a flower laid upon a flower it lies,
Or like the night’s dew laid upon the night.
Love stands upon thy left hand and thy right,
Yet by no sunset and by no moonrise
Shall make thee man and ease a woman’s sighs,
Or make thee woman for a man’s delight.
To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?
Hid love in all the folds of all thy hair,
Fed thee on summers, watered thee with showers,
Given all the gold that all the seasons wear
To thee that art a thing of barren hours?

Yea, love, I see; it is not love but fear.
Nay, sweet, it is not fear but love, I know;
Or wherefore should thy body’s blossom blow
So sweetly, or thine eyelids leave so clear
Thy gracious eyes that never made a tear—
Though for their love our tears like blood should flow,
Though love and life and death should come and go,
So dreadful, so desirable, so dear?
Yea, sweet, I know; I saw in what swift wise
Beneath the woman’s and the water’s kiss
Thy moist limbs melted into Salmacis,
And the large light turned tender in thine eyes,
And all thy boy’s breath softened into sighs;
But Love being blind, how should he know of this?

Mary Beard, from whom I get all this, comments that with no stable succession and constant plotting and murder, history cannot be certain of any of these rumours, written by the victors to damn rather than to describe.

9 thoughts on “Hermaphroditus

  1. Indeed. I was interested in Mary Beard’s thesis: that the legends of Gaius were written by his enemies, supporting the new regime, so should be distrusted; but that statue blew me away. Well, my most popular search is for “tranny blog”, so I should give them something to look at.

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      • Hm, well the first thing that comes to mind is the thought of beauty of power that one cannot possess in all its human forms even if one may want to, hence, male/female in one body can be perceived as super-human although the intentions of creator of such classic depictions may have been to create an abomination in my eyes it’s quite beautiful, profound and thought provoking.

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        • The British Museum sells a book, Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome

          Drawing on examples of classical erotic art, some of them well-known and others rarely discussed, this beautifully illustrated book explores why the Greeks and Romans surrounded themselves with so many sexually explicit images. It examines how these images were used and what they reveal about how the ancients saw themselves and their world.

          The Greeks and Romans were not shy about sex. In Classical Greece drinking cups were decorated with scenes of seduction and sexual intercourse which make the modern viewer blush and sculptures with erect penises served as boundary-stones and signposts. In ancient Rome models of penises were worn around the neck or hung from doorways and marble satyrs and nymphs grappled in gardens.

          How are we to make sense of this abundance of sexual imagery? Were these images sexy, shocking, humorous? Were they about sex or love? And what and how do we learn from them? Sex on Show answers these questions and reveals ancient attitudes to religion, politics, sex and gender, and also how the ancient saw themselves and their world.

          Covering material from the sixth century BC to the fourth century AD, as well as the reception of this material in the Renaissance and later, Sex on Show uses detailed visual analysis to ask not what but why. The centrality of the male nude in Greek and Roman art, the premium put on male-male desire in Greek culture and the anthropomorphism and promiscuity of the gods, already demands that we look differently. That we look at all makes us self- conscious.

          Beautifully illustrated, this lively and thought-provoking book does not simply address theories of sexual practice or social history, it is a visual history – concerning what it meant and still means to have sex stare us in the face.

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  2. Thanks, will get that book. Sound very interesting and one may indeed wonder whether the Greeks and the Romans actually wanted to strip sexuality off the taboo we know today; to make sexual and physical attributes of human beings accepted as natural

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  3. Dear Clare,

    Your post is wonderfully informative, as well as thought provoking. Classical Greek and Romans (who ‘copied’ much from Greeks) were not burdened by taboos, guilt, shame, restrictions, etc. that the onset of Christianity eventually gave birth too. Their was the world in which beauty, either of intellect, or body flourish freely. This is not to say they lived in some rosy haven; their world was also very cruel (think of their favorite past-times for instance), but to simply acknowledge the simple fact that in their time sexuality did not even remotely resemble the meanings we associate with it today.

    Take Care,
    Daniela

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  4. It is always lovely to see you here.

    Ihttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cb/Anasyromenos_statuette%2C_Rome_art_market.JPG/297px-Anasyromenos_statuette%2C_Rome_art_market.JPG don’t know. I can’t generalise about a civilisation over 1200 years of history stretching from South Britain to Egypt, especially when I am with my whole society imprinted with Biblical ideas. There is a huge range of desire and inhibition, and a huge range of acceptable cultural channels for it, and not being objective myself it is most hard to see when another’s differs from my own, easiest when I can empathise from my ownhttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/Pompeya_er%C3%B3tica3.jpg/320px-Pompeya_er%C3%B3tica3.jpg experience. There were moralists, and debauchees, just as we have. The picture on the left is an ornament, rather than a large statue: a more affordable decoration for a less exalted home.

    It occurs to me that the great statues of herm-
    aphroditus could be designed to intimidate, to repel and diminish less powerful people who came into the owner’s halls.

    The Wikipedia article on Sexuality in Ancient Rome is a fascinating list of diverse experiences.

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