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Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art
Hermaphroditus (Greek, Ἑρμαφρόδιτος, Hermaphroditos; also referred to as Ἑρμαφροδίτη, Hermaphrodite) was the child of Hermes and Aphrodite (the Roman equivalents were Mercury and Venus), who had combined male and female characteristics.
In the art of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the intersexual deity is often depicted in explicitly erotic and even seductive poses, with exposed breasts and male genitals. 
Marble statuette of Hermaphroditus
carrying the infant Eros in the fold
of her cloak.
Roman Imperial period, 1st century AD
copy of a Hellenistic prototype. Probably
from Tor Marancia, Rome. Greek marble.
Height 74.5 cm.
Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums,
Rome. Inv. No. MC370. Acquired in
1823 from the Chablais Collection.
The "Berliner Hermaphroditos" wearing
a mithra, a woman's scarf.
Circa 120-140 AD. Thasian marble.
Height with base 172.3 cm, base 14 cm.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 193.
The original location of the sculpture is not
known. The Comte de Caylus purchased it for
his collection in 1750 in Paris. It was purchased
for Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia in Paris
in 1828 from the sculptor Jean-Pierre Cortot
by the art dealer M. St. Vincent. Karl Friedrich
Schinkel and Christian Daniel Rauch were
also involved in the purchase.
Ceramic figurine of Hermaphroditus.
From the Yortanli Dam Salvage
excavation, near Pergamon.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Marble statue of Hermaphroditus
from Pergamon. Hellenistic period,
3rd - 2nd century BC. Height 186.5 cm.
Found in 1879 near the Great Altar
of Zeus on the Pergamon Acropolis,
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 363 T. Cat. Mendel 624.
See Pergamon gallery 2, page 17.
Statue of Hermaphroditus from Pompeii.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Fragment of a marble herm of
Hermaphroditus raising his/her
garment to reveal male genitals.
Hellenistic period. Found in the olive
grove of Ilias Deliapostolis, in the Kestel
river valley, at the foot of the Pergamon
acropolis. Height 124 cm.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Fragment of a marble statuette of
Hermaphroditus of a common type,
showing the deity raising his/her
garment to reveal male genitals.
Roman period, 2nd century AD.
Izmir Museum of History and Art.
Inv. No. 5921.
The torso of a similar marble statuette,
the so-called "Priapos-Statuette", allegedly
from Ephesus, was purchased in Smyrna
(Izmir) in 1877 by Carl Humann, and is now
in the Antikensammlung of the Berlin State
Museums (SMB), Inv. No. Sk 246. A complete
and more refined statue of the subject, from
the 3rd century AD, is in the Louvre.
Detail of a table support
in the form of Hermaphroditus.
1st century BC - 1st century AD.
Parian marble. Height 70 cm.
Barracco Museum, Rome.
Inv. No. MB 183.
Fragmentary marble statuette
2nd century AD. Found in 1940
in the Sanctuary of Attis, Ostia.
Ostia Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. SBAO 169.
Fragmentary marble statuette of Hermaphroditus.
Roman Imperial period. Provenance unknown.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. MΘ 1119.
Statue of Hermaphroditus and a satyr at erotic play, Berlin-Torlonia type.
Parian marble. 2nd century AD Roman copy of a Hellenistic original,
probably of the 2nd century BC. Height of Hermaphroditus 122.6 cm.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 195.
Purchased from an art dealer in Rome in 1826 by Karl Josias Freiherr von Bunsen.
Perhaps from the Aldobrandini Collection.
|Statue groups depicting this subject are known from a number of examples and fragments in other museums, for example in Cherchell and Algiers, Algeria, Antakya, Turkey, Rome and Dresden (see photo below). Such representations of erotic entanglements are often referred to as symplegmata (from σύμπλεγμα, symplegma, braided, or entwined; plural Symplegmata).
This group has been extensively restored. The satyr's head is modern, Hermaphroditus' head is ancient but belongs to another statue. The objects below the couple are Dionysian-bucolic attributes, including musical instruments (tamborine and cymbals) and a tortoise, as well as the syrinx (Pan pipes) and lagobolon (also associated with Pan).
The type of head of a satyr used as a
model for the restoration of the statue.
This head is from a statue group with
Dionysus, a young satyr and a panther,
in the Palazzo Altemps, Rome.
A restored marble statue of Hermaphroditus and a satyr at erotic play.
2nd half of the 1st century AD Roman period copy of a Hellenistic
original, probably of the late 2nd century BC. From Tivoli, near Rome.
Height 90.5 cm, width 104 cm, depth 64 cm.
Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden. Inv. No. Hm 155.
From the Albani Collection.
Currently (2017) in a crowded temporary exhibition of ancient
sculptures, behind a glass wall in the entrance hall, following
damage to the building caused by flooding in 2002.
Fresco of Hermaphroditus and a satyr at erotic play.
Wall painting from Pompeii. 1-50 AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 110878. Secret Cabinet.
Fragment of a neo-Attic wine bowl with a relief of Hermaphroditus dancing.
Reign of Augustus, 27 BC - 14 AD. Pentelic Marble. Height 60 cm.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 170.
From the Steinhäuser Collection.
Fragment of a fresco with Hermaphroditus from Capua, Campania, Italy.
Second half of the 3rd century AD.
Hermaphroditus is shown naked apart from a red cloak and a golden laurel wreath.
In the manner of depictions of Dionysus, he/she rests his right hand on his head
and carries a kithara in the left.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 214.
Fresco painting of Hermaphroditus.
From Herculaneum. 1-50 AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 9224. Secret Cabinet.
Fresco with Hermaphroditus, an aged satyr (Silenus) and a maenad.
From the tablinum (Room h) of the Casa di M. Epidus Sabinus, Pompeii
(Casa IX, 1, 22.29). 50-79 AD (according to K. Schefold after 63 BC).
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 27875. Secret Cabinet.
|Hermaphroditus sits on a bench with an exposed erect penis, his garment lowered and resting on his thighs. The satyr with a wreath and dressed in red, stands behind him and grasps the god's raised left forearm with his left hand and raises his own right hand. To the right stands a maenad, wearing a wreath and a doeskin nebris, and holding in her right hand a kantharos (drinking cup), and in her left hand a thyrsos (an attribute of Dionysus) and a tamborine.
The tall construction behind the figures appears to be an altar, and the greenery and rocks to the left suggest a cave sanctuary in a rural setting.
For further information about satyrs, maenads, the thyrsos and nebris, see Dionysus.
Fresco with Hermaphroditus and a satyr.
From Herculaneum. 1-50 AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 27701. Secret Cabinet.
Fresco with Hermaphroditus and Pan.
From the atrium of the Casa dei Dioscuri, Pompeii (Casa VI, 9, 6). 1-50 AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 27700. Secret Cabinet.
|Although several Roman artworks show Hermaphroditus defending herself from erotic advances of satyrs, here the tables have been turned. It appears that the goat-footed god Pan, shown in other scenes sexually drawn to Aphrodite and even goats (see the Pan page), is here trying to escape from Hermaphroditus' grasp. The signal he sends with his raised right hand says it all.
Marble statue of sleeping Hermaphroditus.
Anatolian marble. Circa mid 2nd century. A copy of a 2nd century BC
bronze original of the Asia Minor school. Found in 1879 in the ruins
of an ancient house near the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome. Length 148 cm.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 1087.
|The nude figure, partly covered by a cloth, perhaps a himation (cloak), is described as "caught changing position while asleep, thus revealing a dual nature with male and female sexual characteristics". It is thought that such statues were positioned in a room or space so that the viewer entering and seeing it for the first time from behind would assume the figure was female. Moving around to the other side the viewer would then be surprised, shocked, amused or titillated to see that it had not only breasts but also male genitals.
Apart from the erotic and comic aspects of such statues, little is known about the more serious or spiritual intentions of the makers or commissioners of such works, or when or where the first example was made. There appears to be no mention of sleeping Hermaphroditus in ancient literature. The concept may have evolved from depictions of other sleeping mythological figures such as maenads and the sleeping Ariadne, which became more common and overtly erotic during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. 
The Sleeping Maenad statue in Athens (see below) is almost identical except that the figure lacks the male genitals. Probably the most famous marble copy, known as the Borghese Hermaphrodite, is in the Louvre, Inv. No. MA 231, and another copy is in the Uffizi, Florence, Inv. No. 343 (from the Ludovisi Collection).
The sleeping Hermaphroditus statue in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme from the front.
Detail of the sleeping Hermaphroditus statue in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
Marble statue of a sleeping maenad, of the type known as the sleeping Hermaphrodite
or reclining Hermaphrodite, lying on a panther skin spread on a rocky surface.
Pentelic Marble. First half of the 2nd century AD, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian
(117-138 AD). Found in 1880, south of the Athenian Acropolis. Length 136 cm.
Thought to be the work of an Attic workshop and to have decorated a luxury residence.
While the sleeping Hermaphroditus in the Palazzo Massimo is exhibited unprotected,
this statue is confined by a low glass case, making it more difficult to view.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 261.
Detail of the sleeping maenad statue in Athens.
||Notes, references and links
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Dresden, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Rome, Barracco Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
Ostia Archaeological Museum
Bergama Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Izmir Museum of History and Art
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
|Photos and articles © David John|
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