PALEOLITHIC ART MAGAZINE
HERMAPHRODITHE:THE INVISIBLE BIFRONTISME OF THE DIVINITY
The hermaphrodithe substantive derives from a mythical divinity, Hermaphrodithe exactly, son of Hermes and Aphrodite,
from which his name, that however derives also from andros (in Greek, man) and guné (in Greek, woman);
such derivation alludes in immediate and clear way to the possession of both the sexes.
Hermaphrodithe is an
original divinity from the East, and just from Syria; Syria transmitted them to the Cypriots, near which, more than
elsewhere, we have found the traces.(Fig. 1)
Sculpture of hellenistic age from Pergamum, Archaeological Museum, Istambul, Turkey
Fig.1 Sleeping Hermaphrodithe
National Museum, Rome
According to a myth of literary and not religious origin, reported by Ovid, Hermaphrodithe would be the son of Hermes
Near the Greeks and the Romans it seems that Hermaphrodithe has not had cult, and according to some
opinions, of such divinity took care the figurative arts and the poetry, more than the religion; this, near the Greeks,
from which historical works of art and news reach us.
Therefore, the God Hermaphrodithe encloses in himself the two
polarities, man and woman.
Between the Greek philosophers, after
Heraclitus , that had emphasized the unit of the contraryes
(" the identity is the other face of the diversity "),
Plato supported the androgynous origin of the man.
In his Dialogues we read:
" In principle three were the sexes of the human gender, and not two like now, male and female, but there were also a third common to both, of which the name is remained, while it is disappeared; this was then the androgynous gender, and its aspect and its name participated of both,
of male and of female, while now is remained only the name, that sounds as derision... the shape of every man was
all round ... and two faces over the round neck, similar in all; and on both the faces, oriented in opposite sense, a only
head, and four ears, and two sexes... the male had origin from the sun, the female from the earth, and who participated of
both genders from the moon, as the moon participates of the sun and the earth ".
The tendency to the union of
the opposite ones was emphasized by Freud, at the beginnings of the past century, during his studies about the language,
in "Opposite meaning of primal words" (1909), with the observation of the tendency of the ancient languages to express opposite concepts, or, more just, the relationship between the two meanings, with an only word.
This, regarding the world of the thought.
The iconographic features of Hermaphrodithe remain however male. In fact, Hermaphrodithe, son of divinity, is born like
male divinity, and then have become hybrid divinity, partecipating together with the male and feminine spirituality, that
is he has transformed himself, or, if we want, has been transformed from the Gods, and the Salmace nymph, who has continued
to live, that is to cohabit, in his body, and, spiritually, in his mind.
Let us go now from the representative
iconography to the poetic representation.
We are debtors to Homer the most authoritative prototype of representation
of every transformation, with the description of the magic operated from
Circe on the companions of Ulixes,
transformed in pigs.
To Nicander, Greek poet of Colofon (150 B.C), we are debtors of an intersting work,
the Metamorphoses, from which probably Ovid inspired himself.
Many catalogues of myths, especially those
of alexandrine age, diffused at Rome from the beginnings of the century, offered rich cues on the topic of the
transformation, and inspired numerous poets, between which Catulle and Virgil.
Sure Ovid knew these myths, and above all from it he takes inspiration for the work of wide breath of the
Metamorphoses, rich of legends, directed to establish a poetic tie between man and vegetable, animal and mineral
kingdom, collected by the poet during his travels in Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and Sicily, but also from the Teogony
Catalogue of the Women by
Hesiod, beyond that, as remembered, by the alexandrin poets Callimachus, Partenius and Nicander.
in the Metamorphoses, whose topic is " to change the shapes in new bodies ", the poet of Sulmona tells the myth of
the Salmacide nymph who, in a fountain near Alicarnassus, clings to the body of the beautifulst loved young man, in order never to be separate , giving place to a new creature, the Hermaphrodithe exactly: tale in which the metamorphosis appears like the only solution for a real situation of separation, without other possibility.
In Metamorphosis ( l.IV), Ovid therefore narrates of this young man, breeded by the Naiads, "cuius erat facies, in qua materque paterque cognosci possent; nomen quoque traxit ab illis."(vv 290-291) ; he had a so beautiful aspect, that it was possible to recognize the father and the mother, and he had also the name from them; until, 15 years old, abandoned the native mounts , near a water mirror in the country of the Carii, the most feminine nymph Salmace view him:"puerum vidit visumque optavit habere " (v 316). The young man, unaware of the love, refused the explicit demands of the nymph that, inflamed of love, in her turn threw in the waters in which Hermaphrodithe was immersed, closely clinging to him, taking root as the ivy to the log, in spite of the resistance of him, praying gods never to be separated "...et istum nulla dies a me nec me deducat ab isto." (vv 372-73). The Gods received her prayer: the two united bodies melt in an only figure: " "vota suos habuere deos; nam mixta duorum corpora iunguntur, faciesque inducitur illis una." ( vv 374-76) ;" nec duo sunt et forma duplex,
nec femina dici nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur".(vv 378-379)
Therefore they was not more two, but an ambiguous being that is neither woman, neither man, that has the aspect of both
and nobody of the two.
Our Latin grandfathers therefore, like the other people of the Mediterranean basin, whithout speaking about
the rest of the earth, fabled with many myths.
Near the first historical civilizations of the oriental Mediterraneum
and the Middle East, many types of civilization have been ollowed in the time, near which complex myth wealth is one. Much
divinities are the same , but they change name and features in the time and the space.
From written testimonies we
know about divinities, daughters of divinities, like Hermaphrodithe
. Let us see his history more near.
Hermes (just, Hermes Trimegistus, that is three times most great, and near the Latins then roman Mercury , messenger of
the Gods), even if son of Zeus, is a Greek interpretation of the egyptian God
Thot, lunar god of the transformations, and
Nabu (the God scribe, that controlled the correlation between words of various languages , therefore bringing us again
to the concept of duplicity to harmonize; he was also messenger, like Hermes) of the mesopotamic tradition, at the
time of Hammurabi (1700 B.C), by philosophers and theologists of the hellenistic times. And these are historical news of
If the interpretation of a God, who, from a religion to the other, changes his name, is equivalent to descendancys,
then it can be said that the egyptian god Thot venerated at Hermopolis was the " father " of Hermes, at least according to
the concept of cultural evolution of the divinities, that is the one who has come before, leaving one own inheritance.
It is interesting to notice, about the hermaphrodithisme, that it was believed that Thot had been created from himself
to the beginning, together to his wife Maat.
Similarly at Menphys, the probable corresponding,
Ptah, venerated like
Atum at Heliopolis, creates himself leaving from the original chaos
(Nun). It is matter of the so-called " original gods" (the menphis Enneadis numbered nine gods).
Hapi, God of the Nilus, personification of the fertility of Egypt, iconographically is hermaphrodite, man with the hanging breasts .
Finally, it can be interesting to remember that, in the Jewish-Christian tradition, Angel derives from the Greek Aggelos , that means " messenger ", and , in the popular tradition, we know that the angel sends back to the uncertainty concerning the sex , that could go back to the image of the Hermaphrodite.
Other news reaches to us from archaeology, through the iconography of the divinities, where not there was, or not was still the writing.
In all the religions the divinities have an iconographic , or natural, or invisibile semblance.
The natural semblance
of the divinity can be the sun, the moon, a plant, an animal, a man or other, that however, in the time and the space, has
also an artistic representation.
The invisible semblances of the divinity are narrated orally.
However, in the iconography of the divinity (artistic representation) and in the natural divinities is always the oral confrontation, i.e.,the faithful knows who is the represented subject, or the natural subject, and which are its divine qualities, and, if he does not know it, the schaman or the priest remembers it to him.
In the first city civilizations and in the prehistory the iconography of the divinities is nearly exclusively constituted
from hybrids of men and animals.
We can find these hybrids also in the ethnography.
The vicissitude of the
mutations is eternal, and we find again it at the origin of the life: if today it is spoken about Big-bang, a time was
spoken about the Cosmos emergent from the chaos.
Therefore also, the interlace man / nature in its various shapes is
ancient how much the man.
The iconography of the divinities from the prehistory to the historical times, in much
synthetic way, is the following:
- two humanheads joined for the nape, of the same or different sex,
- one human head and one of animal joined for the nape,
- head of animal with human body,
- head of animal mixed to human head,
- human head with animal body, - animals made with several parts of the human and animal body,
- men made with several parts of animals,
- men made with parts of animals, and of men of male and feminine sex,
- monstrous beings with much heads, many legs, many hands, etc,
-human heads bound together human or animal ,
Hermes the " father " of Hermaphrodite was represented with two, three, four heads(Fig.2)
Fig.2 Two-faced Hermes
Roquepertuse, Mouths of Rhone (France)
In this sculpture it is not possible to establish the sex of the represented subjects. Between the two heads, there is a
smaller head, without the features of the face, the residual of a part of the divinity, that has gone in disuse.
At Athens, by the Ceramic, there was an image with four heads with an inscription: " O Hermes tetracefalus, beautiful
work of Telesarchides, you see all ..."
Hermes a little everywhere , near the Romans (transformed in Janus (two-faced) protecting the door; in Thrace
like God of Kings (Fig.3)
Fig.3 Three-headed Hermes
God of the kings, he is famous as the Thracian rider god with three heads
in the features of the rider with three heads; etc.
In the Prehistory and in the first urban civilizations they existed, also, divinities represented with the features only of men, or women, or animals.
In these cases, to establish if it is matter of divinities is not always possible.
With the historical civilizations,
it begins, in art, also the representation of not religious subjects, sometimes placed side by side with those religious ,
like kings, emperors, military leaders, but always tied to a symbology of power, similar to the religious symbology.
fact, the sculptures of roman emperors were present in all the empire, in equal repeated copies, as the sculptures of the
divinity of the age.
Hermaphrodithe is an important divinity because he comprises two beings, the man and the woman, even if iconographically
the aspect is male.
Hermaphrodithe is not the only hybrid divinity man-woman of every time and of the world; besides
the bisexual known divinities; where a written history of the representation of a male divinity there is not, we do not
In the two-faced anthropomorhic representations there are divinities where the two heads have the
beard, and others where, one has the beard and the other have not.(Fig.4)
Fig.4 Two-faced Argo with eyes on the body
A head is bearded and is male, while the not bearded head could be female
It is therefore possible that the face that does not have the beard is feminine, in how much, if the head were male, would be smaller than the head with beard, i.e it would be the head of a boy. However, there was also who cut the beard.
The priests who have venered Hermaphrodithe, probably, had already an innovator mentality.Hermaphrodithe was sure a requirement of a category of faithfuls, that has been realized iconographically in new way, that sure experienced of a culturally new world like that hellenistic one. That is, not more a visible union of two
joined heads, of man and woman, already present before, and after Hermaphrodite, but the fusion of two spiritualities in an
The ancient Jewish had a God with four heads, as also Hermes had. Since the religions progress, the Jewish have abolished
the representations of the God in order to avoid the idolatry, as after also the Islamics.
Hermes, the " father " of Hermačphrodithe, has a great iconographic documentation, in how much, as it has been said, often he is represented with two, three, four heads, what constitutes a point of reference for the study of the bifrontisme. (Fig. 4)
In Greece, Hermes was " protecting of the roads ", " guide of the pedestrians", and protected " against malignant phantoms and spirits ".
In Thrace (II - III century a. C.) it was " God of the kings ", " solar divinity ", " God of the oaths (made by the kings).
Near the Celts, he is " progenitor and founder of kings lineage".
At Micene he is " lord of the animals ".
The father of Hermaphrodithe was therefore a powerful and authoritative divinity, venerated in some places by the people, and in other only by the powerful men.
Hermaphrodithe is a young divinity, and thinks to the amusement. He is a young person of extraordinary beauty, who wants to play. He refused the offers of the Salmace nymph, and when he was dived for game, in the fountain, the nymph clung around and they become one.
Hermaphrodithe, between the ancient divinities, is, perhaps, that one of which it is known less. Its name, the name of the father, of the mother, his history of love of very short time are known.
Aphrodite, the " mother " of Hermaphrodithe, was the Greek Goddess of the love, the beauty, of the fertilility, which corresponds the roman Venus. She was Goddess of the joy and the joy. Her cult was joined to the symbol of the dove.
The iconography of Hermaphrodithe is known, not as divinity at Cyprus and in Syria, but as " fabulous being " in Greece.
Near the Greeks, Hermaphrodite is represented in beautiful sculptures, and is beautiful also he. His aspect is male, in how much he has the penis.
The representations of hermaphrodithe in hellenistic Greece do not have a constant tipology like for other divinities, and are each different from the other.
The style of representation, like for other hellenistic sculptures of divinity, is the search of the beautiful , with human parts taken from persons of harmonious features, and bound together.
In the case of the representations of Hermaphrodythe, there are parts of his body, that are taken from feminine bodies, in how much in the male bodies came evidenced the musculature.
In the tipology of the religious iconography, Hermaphrodithe re-enters in the " invisibile bifrontisme ", in how much we
know that he is a double creature, but it is not looked at. If the writing had not existed, today, we would not know
nothing about Hermaphrodithe.
The " invisible bifrontisme " comes from the bifrontisme(visible), whose origins are
in the Paleolithic.
In the Cave of the Balzi Rossi in Liguria they have been found three small two-faced sculptures
attributed to the Upper Paleolithic. They are a feminine figure with two heads, a feminine figure joined for the nape and
the feet to a male figure; and one of feminine head joined for the nape to a male head ( see in this magazine
The ancient two-faced "Venus" of Mexico in realation to
the two-faced Paleolithic "Venus" of the Balzi Rossi by Pietro Gaietto, Figg. 3 and 4; and
The dress in the "Venus" of Liguria, Austria and Mexico, by Pietro Gaietto, Fig.7).
Typologically these three small sculptures re-enter in the bifrontisme (visible). We know that it's a matter of divinities,
for parallelisms with the historical civilizations and the ethnography, where the two-faced sculptures are all connected to
Here I introduce the sculpture of a bearded male head:
Fig.5 Bearded head of Homo sapiens sapiens
Sculpture in stone of the Upper Paleolithic (between 20,000 and 12,000 years ago)
Originating from Palo (S.Pietro d'Olba, Savona, Italia)
Height cm.24. Originating from Palo (S.Pietro d' Olba, Savona, Italy). It belongs to the Upper Paleolithic, and is dated between the 20.000 and 12.000 years ago. It represents a Homo sapiens sapiens of beautiful appearance. It is the more beautiful that the archeologists have found in the Paleolithic.
This sculpture does not have stylistic deformation, and is in good state of conservation. It does not have base, and on the back it is flat. In the ritual its positioning had to be horizontal.
The hypotheses of its interpretation can be various: portrait of an important man, portrait of a died person, representation of a divinity, representation of a divinity that re-enters in the typology of the " invisible bifrontisme ". They are hypothesis to make, even if they will not have an answer in short times.
The importance of Hermaphrodithe in the iconography of the religions is the " invisible bifrontisme ".
In the representations of man and animals, there is always an attribution that is invisible, and that regards supernatural powers, that can help the faithful.
Aphrodite, whose aspect is that of a beautiful woman, has had many attributions, but these regard, like for other divinities, divine qualities that, generally, were propitiatory for the faithful.
The " invisible bifrontisme " that I have found in the divinity of Hermaphrodythe, and that I introduce in the numerous shapes of bifrontisme (visible), would have open new ways of research in the interpretation of the art from the prehistory to the historical times.
The " invisible bifrontisme " of Hermaprodithe is not only the union man - woman, but also, what it represents for people who venerates him. Therefore a complex divinity.
The myths express great mysteries of the life, and at the same time they enclose in himself a dynamic way of individual dissolution of this, of the own mystery.
I make here the hypothesis that the myth of Hermaphrodithe, with its " invisible bifrontisme ", expresses a intrapsychic conflict between the feminine part and that male one of the human being, and at the same time indicates in the fusion both the way for the overcoming of the dissosciation, and the acquired ability to understand other from himself, through introspection and unconscious cognitive projection.
Concluding, Hermaphrodithe, from Syria and Cyprus, is migrated in hellenistic Greece, evolving in a new way, in an extraordinary civilization; that is, he is not more a religious divinity, also always remaining a sort of God of the pleasure.
Same example have followed iconographically some hybrid pagan divinities surviving to the Christianity in Europe until the 600s, entered in the satire in 700s and the 800s (caricatures of men and women with heads of animals), for ulteriorly transform themselves in the 900s in the comic strips (characters of Walt Disney, and other cartoons), that have given, and continue to give, to the present humanity great amusement .
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