Who Is Hermaphroditus?
In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was born a handsome boy and raised by a nymph on Mount Ida. However, his future and purpose was to be quite unique. Just as his parent’s, his purpose would center around sexuality.
Hermaphroditus was a minor deity. He was the god of hermaphrodites and effeminates. He served as a guiding presence and symbolized the beauty of union.
It is said that Hermaphroditus would appear at times to men but other sources lead us to believe that he was considered to be a monstrosity and rarely entered the world. There are not many references of Hermaphroditus after his main myth, which suggests the second assumption is more accurate.
The story of Hermaphroditus can be found in both Roman and Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, his name is a compound of his parents’ names, Hermes and Aphrodite.
Legends and Stories
There is one main myth of Hermaphroditus, which tells of how he was forever bonded with another creature.
The Myth of Hermaphroditus
Hermaphroditus was born to Hermes and Aphrodite but he was not raised by his parents. Instead, he resided at Mount Ida, a sacred mountain in present day Turkey, where he was nursed by nymphs. He was incredibly handsome and knew that he could conquer the world with just his looks. So at the young age of fifteen, he began to travel the world around him. He visited Lycia and Caria.
While in Caria, he explored a patch of woods near Halicarnassus. He came across a pool and discovered a nymph named Salmacis. Salmacis was immediately overtaken with lust for the boy because of his good looks. She tried to seduce Hermaphroditus but he rejected her advances.
When Hermaphroditus thought Salmacis had left, he undressed and entered the pool to bathe. But Salmacis had been hiding behind a tree. She suddenly jumped out and quickly entered the pool. She wrapped her body tightly around the boy while kissing him. Hermaphroditus struggled to get away but was unable to.
Salmacis called out to the gods and asked that they make it so the two could never part. The gods granted her wish but in a way that Salmacis might not have even expected. Their bodies were blended together, becoming one being of both sexes, with female breasts, legs, and facial features combined with the genitalia of a man.
Hermaphroditus was grief stricken. His good looks were gone and he now faced stigma and rejection from the world. As a way to lessen his pain, he asked his parents to curse the pool so that anyone who entered would be transformed just as he was. They agreed, and Hermaphroditus became the god of hermaphrodites and effeminates.
Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. His siblings were Eros, Harmonia, Phobos, Deimos, Pan, Priapus, and Tyche. He was forever joined with Salmacis by the gods.
In artistic representations, Hermaphroditus is shown as both male and female with large wings on his back. He has female thighs and legs, breasts, long hair, and male genitalia.
Hermaphroditus has long served as a symbol of androgyny, beginning in Greek and Roman times. But the symbol he is most associated with is marriage. Hermaphroditus himself is a physical representation of marriage as he is the coming together of a man and woman. He might have been associated with weddings without this union though as both his parents were known for their protecting and blessing of brides.