Hermaphroditus and the Sinful Waters of Salmacis – Bardakci of Bodrum / Turkey
Hermaphroditus, the very name, a compound of Hermes and Aphrodite, stirs up a certain perverse curiosity, even today. The myth, as most are, is a tragic tale of unrequited love, with a naive, masculine hero falling victim to the whims of woman, an all too familiar tale in any system of beliefs, only the names differ. In this case, the hero has two, the well-established Aphroditus as well as the little-known Atlantiades. A young devotee of the Greek god Hermes, united in tragedy with a nymph daughter of the very goddess he loved as a mother and whose name, some say, he shared, Aphrodite. And so, we discover the origin of the infamous name, but the true mystery lies in the classic figure of a divine being, with the head, breasts, and body of a female, but with the sexual organ of a man.
Perplexing names aside, according to tradition, the youth had inherited the beauty of both his divine parents, and was brought up by the nymphs of Mount Ida. In his fifteenth year, for reasons unclear, he set off to visit Caria, in the same region as Halicarnassus. One afternoon, he lied down by the spring of Salmacis (Bardakci of Bodrum /Turkey). Finding him there, the nymph of the spring fell instantly in love with him, and tried in vain to win his affections.
Some time later, as he bathed in the spring, she embraced him, and prayed to the gods that they might permit her to remain united with him for ever. The gods approved the demand, and the bodies of the Hermaphroditus and the fairy became integrated in a manner that they were either a man or a woman. In the words of Ovid, from the pages of his ‘Metamorphosis’:
“’Ye Gods ordain no day shall ever dawn to part us twain!’ Her prayer found gods to hear; both bodies merged in one, both blended in one form and face.”
Hermaphrodites, horrified over the metamorphosis, prayed that in the future every one who bathed in the well should be transformed into a hermaphrodite.
In this, as in other mythological stories, we must not assume that the story is based on fact; however the premise gave rise to the tale, and thus received, as it were, a tangible body. The idea itself was probably derived from the worship of nature in the East, where we find not only monstrous amalgamations of animals, but also that peculiar kind of dualism which manifests itself in the combination of the male and female. Others, however, conceive that the hermaphrodites were subjects of artistic representation rather than religious worship.
Ancient artists frequently depicted hermaphrodites, in groups or alone, in either a reclining or erect pose. The first celebrated statue of a hermaphrodite, and thus the catalyst for our perverse curiosity, was by the sculptor Polycles. From the first strike hammer upon chisel, he established in the minds of men throughout the ages the focus of distaste for effeminate masculinity, a sad consequence of a simple myth from so long ago which last to this day.
Bodrum, Turkey 8th of July 2009