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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 trans-sexual deity is often depicted in explicitly erotic and even seductive poses, with exposed breasts and male genitals. 
|References to Hermaphroditus|
on My Favourite Planet
|Hellenistic statue of Hermaphroditus from Pergamon.
With photos of other artworks featuring the deity.
Pergamon gallery 2, page 17
Marble statuette of Hermaphroditus
carrying an infant Eros in the fold
of her garment.
From Tor Marancia, Rome.
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Chablais Collection. Inv. No. MC370.
The "Berlin Hermaphroditus" wearing a
mithra, a woman's scarf. Thasian marble.
Circa 120-140 AD. 172.3 cm high.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 193.
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.
Marble herm of Hermaphroditus
from the River Kestel, Pergamon.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Statue 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.
Detail of a table support
in the form of Hermaphroditus.
1st century BC - 1st century AD.
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.
Statue of Hermaphroditus and a satyr at erotic play.
Parian marble. 2nd century AD Roman copy of a Hellenistic original,
probably of the 2nd century BC. Height of Hermaphroditus 122.6 cm.
The statue group has been 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 and a tortoise.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 195.
Acquired in Rome in 1826.
Fresco of Hermaphroditus and a satyr at erotic play.
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.
Augustan age, 27 BC - 14 AD. Pentelic Marble.
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 left hand on his head
and carries a kithara in his 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 Casa di Epidio Sabino, Pompeii (IX, 1, 22). 50-79 AD.
Hermaphroditus sits on a bench with an exposed erect penis. The satyr, standing behind him,
grasps his right arm. To the right stands a maenad, wearing a wreath and a doeskin, and
holding a thyrsos and kantharos (drinking cup), attributes of Dionysus, and a tamborine.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 27875. Secret Cabinet.
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 (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.
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. Another famous marble copy, known as the Borghese Hermaphrodite, is in the Louvre, Inv. No. MA 231.
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
Athens, National 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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