Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hermaphroditus and Hermaphrodites

PD Photo: Hermaphroditus, marble sculpture at Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight Village, Wirral, England, photo taken on 15 July 2006.

PD Image: The metamorphosis of the nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (alternatively known as ‘Verwandlung von Hermaphroditos und Salmicis’ or ‘De gedaanteverwisseling van Hermaphroditus en de nimf Salmacis’) by Flemish painter Jan Gossaert (1478-1532) created in the year ± 1517, oil on panel, size 32.8 cm x 21.5 cm (12.91 in x 8.46 in), located at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

PD Image: The Nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1828) by Belgian neo-classical painter François-Joseph Navez (1787-1869).

The term ‘hermaphrodite’ is derived from the Greek mythological character Hermaphroditus, who fused with the nymph Salmacis, resulting in one individual possessing the physical traits of both male and female. Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite.

Salmacis is an atypical naiad (nymph) whose attempted rape of Hermaphroditus places her as the only nymph rapist in the Greek mythological canon. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, she becomes one with Hermaphroditus, and Hermaphroditus curses the fountain to have the same effect on others, or whoever comes to the fountain of Salmacis (located near the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus) will become effeminate.

Earlier, the word ‘hermaphrodite’ was used to describe a person incompatible with the biological gender binary, but it has recently been replaced by the word ‘intersex’ in medical science.

People with intersex conditions (hermaphrodites) may choose to live exclusively either as male or female, using clothing, social cues, genital surgery and hormone replacement therapy to blend into the sex they identify themselves with more closely. Some intersexual people outwardly appear completely female or male, without realizing that they are intersexual. Intersex is hypothesized to be caused by unusual sex hormones that may be caused by an atypical set of sex chromosomes.

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