Hermaphroditus, in Greek mythology, beautiful son of Hermes and Aphrodite. He scorned the nymph Salmacis, who prayed that they might never be separated. When Hermaphroditus swam in her stream, she combined with him, uniting male and female characteristics in one body—hence the origin of the word hermaphrodite.

In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus or Hermaphroditos (Ancient Greek: ʽἙρμάφρόδιτός) was the child of Aphrodite and Hermes. Born a remarkably handsome boy, he was transformed into an androgynous being by union with the nymph Salmacis. His name is the basis for the word hermaphrodite.


Hermaphroditus's name is derived from those of his parents Hermes and Aphrodite. He was raised by nymphs on Mount Ida, a sacred mountain in Phrygia (present day Turkey). At the age of fifteen, he grew bored of his surroundings and traveled the cities of Lycia and Caria. It was in the woods of Caria, near Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey) that he encountered Salmacis the Naiad 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 intersex form. Hermaphroditus, in his shame and grief, made his own vow, cursing the pool so that any other who bathes within it shall be transformed as well. "In this form the story was certainly not ancient" Karl Kerenyi noted, as compared the myth of the beautiful ephebe with Narcissus and Hyacinthus, who had an archaic hero-cult, and Hymenaios.


His only literary attestation in classical literature is in Ovid's Metamorphoses, IV.402-533. Based on Ovid's telling, Francis Beaumont wrote an epyllion in heroic couplets of the story, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (London 1602).

Algernon Swinburne's poem "Hermaphroditus" is subscribed Au Musée du Louvre, Mars 1863, leaving no doubt that it was the Borghese Hermaphroditus that had inspired his ode, a poem to which Victorian reviewers took offence:

To what strange end hath some strange god made fair
The double blossom of two fruitless flowers?


  • The most famous sculpture of this figure is the Borghese Hermaphroditus.
  • The myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis was the basis for the early Genesis song, "The Fountain of Salmacis," the final track from the Nursery Cryme album (1971), which recounts the myth in some detail.
  • "Hermaphroditus" is a song by Frank Black and the Catholics which appears on the album Dog in the Sand.


Hermaphroditus is depicted in the film Fellini Satyricon as a childlike, very physically weak god who is able to heal humans supplicants afflicted by various ailments (but apparently unable to heal him/herself). It isn't made clear if this pathological weakness has anything to do with Hermaphroditus' intersexed condition.

Hermaphroditus isn't mentioned in the original Petronius novel Satyricon, on which Fellini's film is loosely based. According to one source, the film episode "may be based on a Pseudo-Petronian poem sometimes printed along with the Satyricon".

In the Japanese anime Ranma ½, the main character Ranma Saotome is transformed into a woman after falling into a "cursed" pool.



  • Kerenyi, Karl. The Gods of the Greeks. London: Thames & Hudson, 1951.

External links

Search another word or see Hermaphrodituson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature