The origin of the hermaphrodite in Greek art

This thesis gives a religious and historical account for the origin and significance of Hermaphrodite in classical Greek art. The origin of this double form goes back to one of the earliest cults known to mankind, the Mother Goddess. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that Mother Goddesses from Neolithic times were bisexual. This study shows that the androgynous figure with its ties to the Mother Goddess cult remained ever present in the ancient Western Civilizations from Neolithic times to the end of classical antiquity. The rendering of bisexual statues is also shown to have been influenced by the hieros gamos rite (part of the Mother Goddess’ cult) in its affiliation with divine kingship. One of these statues is the pharaoh Tutankhamun on a black leopard and another is a Priest With a Dove from Cyprus; their androgynous nature has never before been explained. Moreover, this thesis demonstrates that the statue of a Priest With a Dove in the Metropolitan Museum in New York is in actuality the bearded Aphrodite and the immediate forerunner of the Greek Hermaphrodite. Fertility festivals with their hieros gamos rite between a Mother Goddess and her paredros (usually impersonated by the king and queen or their equivalent) were held annually to renew fertility of all life on earth as well as life after death (rebirth). These types of festivals are shown to have been widespread throughout the ancient Greek communities and very similar in content. The androgynous Cypriot Aphrodite cult appears to have come from Crete to Mycenae and then to Athens (ca. 1300 B.C.). According to Greek legend, when the cult of Aphrodite was instituted in Athens, the paredros of the goddess was Dionysos and not Adonis. The first reference to the Adonis-Aphrodite (bisexual Aphroditos) cult occurred in the latter half of the fifth century B.C.. Shortly afterwards Aphroditos was to be identified with Hermaphroditos. The Athenians chose Hermes (rather than Adonis) to share in the name and characteristics with Aphrodite in the creation of a new deity Hermaphrodite, their son. Although the prototype of Hermaphrodite was a votive herm with characteristics of both Hermes and Aphrodite, he is shown in his visual representations to have become totally anthropomorphic, and to possess, in addition, certain attributes of other deities such as Eros, Demeter, Dionysos, Priapos and even Isis. These different kinds of Hermaphrodites suggest that his compound name became identified with androgyny soon after his creation; therefore all bisexual deities, regardless of attributes became known as Hermaphrodites. It is shown in this thesis, however, that his statues, regardless of the various attributes, retained the same meaning his prototype; i.e., that he was a god of fertility, marriage, a protector of the sexual union and rebirth. The over-all study demonstrates that Hermaphrodite was the final realization of a concept deeply embedded in the ancient world.