Ovid. Metamorphosis. Book IV. 373-388 (Salmacis and Hermaphroditus).
The gods answered Salmacis’s prayers,
for their intertwined bodies meld
and their faces resolve into one.
When you graft a branch to a tree’s bark
the two things fuse, and grow that way, before your eyes.
Just so, where their limbs meet in tight embrace
there aren’t two bodies now, but one with two natures:
boy/girl, neither/both–so they appear.
Where a man dove into the flowing waters
there you see him made a weak-limbed half-man.
And in his no-longer-male voice, his arms raised,
Hermaphroditus cries: “My father and mother,
do your son who bears both your names this service:
whoever should enter this pool a man
may he emerge half-man, enervated at once
by the waters’ touch.”
The parents of the two-natured child were moved
and agreed to drug the stream with filth.
vota suos habuere deos; nam mixta duorum
corpora iunguntur, faciesque inducitur illis
una. velut, si quis conducat cortice ramos,
crescendo iungi pariterque adolescere cernit,
sic, ubi complexu coierunt membra tenaci,
nec duo sunt sed forma duplex, nec femina dici
nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.
ergo ubi se liquidas, quo vir descenderat, undas
semimarem fecisse videt mollitaque in illis
membra, manus tendens, sed non iam voce virili
Hermaphroditus ait: “Nato date munera vestro,
et pater et genetrix, amborum nomen habenti:
quisquis in hos fontes vir venerit, exeat inde
semivir et tactis subito mollescat in undis.”
Motus uterque parens nati rata verba biformis
fecit et incesto fontem medicamine tinxit.
Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.