Hermaphrodite was born from the love of Hermes, messenger of the gods, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. He was born as a boy and his name is the union of those of his two parents, he also inherited at his birth of the beauty of his parents. One day, he bathed in the lake of Carie, inhabited by the naiad Salmacis, she was charmed by him and fell in love with the handsome teenager, although he rejected all the advances of the nymph.

Nymph Salmacis and Hermaphrodite, Jean- François Navez, 1829. (Ghent, Belgium)

“Beautiful child,” she said to him, “shall I believe that you are a mortal? Are you god? If you are, I see Love, or, if it is to a mortal that you owe the day, ah! how happy is your mother! how happy is your brother and your sister, if you have a sister! happy again the wet nurse who gave you her breast! but happy above all, and a thousand times happy the one that the hymen made your companion, or the one that you will find worthy of this happiness! If you have already made your choice, at least allow a sweet larceny to be the price of my flame; and if your hand can still give itself, oh, may I be your wife, and fulfil all my wishes! “(Metamorphoses IV, 310)

Salmacis in love with Hermaphrodite, Jean François de Troy, 1769, private collection.

Even though Hermaphrodite had repelled all the advances of Salmacis, she took advantage of Hermaphrodite’s bathing in her spring, to drag him down to the bottom of the water, and, begged the gods not to separate them… Her wish was granted, they were merged together in one body, both man and woman. The nymph also obtained that every young man bathing in her spring undergoes the same transformation and Hermaphrodite too had his prayer answered: men who bathed in these waters would lose their virility and masculine vigour.

The Metamorphosis of Hermaphrodite and Salmacis, Jan Gossaert (beginning XVI century). Rotterdam, Netherlands.

“Deities whose name I bear, you authors of my days, grant me the grace I implore! that all who come after me to bathe in these waters may lose half their sex!” (Metamorphoses IV, 310)

Sleeping Hermaphrodite, 2nd century A.D, after greek original from 150 B.C. Marble, Mattress made by Bernini, 17th century. Galleria Borghese, Rome

From this myth came the figurative type of the hermaphrodite, which was especially popular in the Hellenistic world and in Rome, and which seems to have been fixed for plastic by the Greek sculptor Polycles of Athens. From the famous bronze statue of Polycles, now missing, we have several replicas in museums: the Hermaphrodite Borghese in the Louvre; the Hermaphrodite Ludovisi in the museum of Florence; two others in Rome etc..

Sleeping Hermaphrodite, 2nd century A.D, after greek original from 150BC Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Sleeping Hermaphrodite, Palazzo Massimo, Rome


Sleeping Hermaphrodite, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

The work must be viewed from both sides. From the back, Hermaphrodite, with her head resting on her arms, shows a body with extremely feminine curves, as well as a face with very fine features and curly hair. From the front, he clearly shows the attributes of his male part.

Sleeping Hermaphrodite, Musée du Louvre. Paris

The representation of Hermaphrodite has been taken up by many artists who have varied this type ad infinitum, on engraved stones, on terracotta, on certain paintings and even bronze sculptures…

Sleeping Hermaphrodite, Matteo Bonuccelli, 1652. (Bronze) Musée du Prado, Madrid.

Many options, in different countries to discover the representations of the myth of Hermaphrodite and Salmacis, and to remind you of this curious myth!

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