In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus or Hermaphroditos (Greek: ʽἙρμάφρόδιτός) was the child of Aphrodite and Hermes. He was a minor deity of bisexuality and effeminacy. According to Ovid he merged bodies with a water nymph, becoming a creature of both sexes. His name is the basis for the word hermaphrodite.
Hermaphroditus, the two-sexed son of Aphrodite and Hermes (Venus and Mercury) had long been a symbol of bisexuality or effeminacy, and was portrayed in Greco-Roman art as a female figure with male genitals.
Ovid's account relates that Hermaphroditus was nursed by naiads in the caves of Mount Ida, 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, 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". Hermaphroditus prayed to Hermes and Aphrodite that anyone else who bathed in the pool would be similarly transformed, and his wish was granted.
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. 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. 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 Characteres (16) of Theophrastus. 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.
Full article ▸