Weekly Deity: Hermaphroditus


A minor Roman deity, Hermaphroditus governed sexuality.  Likely he was originally a Grecian god adopted by the Romans, as his name sounds almost exactly like his Grecian counterpart, Hermaphroditos.  In both cultures, the god is exactly the same in his origins, sphere of influence, and mythology.

Attributes

In art, Hermaphroditus was often portrayed as a young female figure but with male genitalia.

Mythology

The mother of Hermaphroditus is Aphrodite (Venus), while his father is Hermes (Mercury), which is evident by the combination of their names into their son’s name.  According to Ovid, Hermaphroditus was raised by naiads for most of his life.  When he became tired of staying in the one place, he ventured out from his home.  While traveling, he came to a pool in which a nymph, Salmacis, bathed.  Salmacis became immediately attracted to Hermaphroditus and wanted him for her own, but he rejected her.  After he thought she had left, Hermaphroditus undressed and stepped into the pool to bathe.  It was then that Salmacis sprang out from her hiding place and wrapped herself around him, calling to the gods in prayer that she and he never be parted.  The gods granted this prayer and melded their two bodies literally into one form, a body of both sexes.  After the change, Hermaphroditus asked his father Hermes and his mother Aphrodite that anyone else who bathed in the pool should fall under the same fate and be transformed as well, a wish which was granted.

Light and Dark Sides

Except for the one myth of his own life, Hermaphroditus appears no where else in Greek or Roman mythology.  His character suggests very little about his personality.  Hermaphroditus is literally the combination of the male and female aspects, which I suppose, depending on how you look at it, can be both a positive and a negative trait.  But considering his final wish, Hermaphroditus sounds like an angry and bitter person, one who wishes others ill in order to make them suffer the pain he also suffered.  There was no logical reason for him to ask for the pool to be cursed (but then, when has anything truly been logical in myths?).

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3 responses to “Weekly Deity: Hermaphroditus

  1. Pingback: Hermaphroditos « Journeying to the Goddess

  2. Well, was the pool truly cursed? I mean, in our modern society hermaphrodites are viewed anywhere between evil and unfortunate – but has this always been the case? I am quite curious about the greeks view on the issue, and if the pool was “cursed” per-say.

    • I chose the word “cursed” in describing what happened with Hermaphroditus’ wish. Not because hermaphrodites are evil or anything, but because I figure if a person who started out with one gender, as Hermaphroditus does in the story, and is forcibly given the opposite gender or both genders, without regard to his/her will in the matter, then that sounds like a curse to me. By wishing for the pool to transform others in the same manner he was transformed, and these unsuspecting people entered the pool, well that sounds to me like the pool was then cursed. Hermaphroditus wasn’t born that way, Salmacis wished for something and the gods granted it–I think the gods granted her wish in a rather unusual way, but then her prayer to them was somewhat ambiguous and open for interpretation. I’m not sure what the Greeks’ views were on hermaphrodites. If I had to form an opinion based solely on this one myth, which is the only account I have to go on, I would say they viewed them not as evil but as unfortunate bystanders in a matter that was of the gods’/fate’s choosing.

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