Statues of sleeping hermaphrodites have been found in several different countries, different cultures, and different periods but many people have no idea where the trend began and why it became so popular.
Hermaphrodites, or people born with both male and female genitalia, have existed since the start of the human race. They've been treated harshly in the past and are still misunderstood in certain places today. Some were even listed at birth along with animals that were born with deformities in official records, which suggested that they were less than human.
When you see how many of these lovely sensual sculptures were made throughout Greek and Roman history, it'd be easy to assume that they were commissioned out of a new-found tolerance for innate differences. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Given the importance of understanding sexual orientation in today's society, it's interesting to uncover the complicated history behind these relaxed and reclining hermaphrodites.
Hermaphroditus Was The Child Of Hermes And Aphrodite
Born male, Hermaphroditus is the son of gods Hermes and Aphrodite. According to legend, a nymph named Salmakis falls in love with him and asks the gods to unite her and the object of her affection forever. Her request is granted and the gods merge Hermaphroditus and Salmakis into one being who is both man and woman.
Hermaphroditus is usually portrayed with female legs, breasts, flowing locks, and male genitals. Some historians believe Hermaphroditus is the inspiration for many Greek and Roman sculptors.
The Birth Of An Intersex Baby Was Considered To Be A Bad Omen
According to advocacy group InterAct, about 2% of the global population is intersex, which the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights defines as having characteristics that "do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies." In ancient Roman times, intersex babies were seen as bad omens, divine punishments, or signs of misconduct.
They were often executed but some parents concealed their child's intersexuality from state officials to protect them.
It's Possible That There Were Hundreds Of Sleeping Intersex Statues
They Were Meant To Surprise Art Purveyors
Most present-day admirers expect the "Sleeping Hermaphrodite" to have atypical anatomy. But originally, the art viewer was meant to approach the statue from behind, where the curves and shape suggested the figure was female. When viewers moved to the front of the piece, they saw male genitalia.