Husbands and Tyrants in the Storm

Euripides, Medea 235-240

“The greatest contest in our life is this: getting a good husband
Or a bad one. For divorces do not bring women
A good reputation and it is impossible to refuse a husband.
When she enters the new ways and laws of his house
She needs to be a prophet, since she has not learned at home
How best to live with this partner. ”

κἀν τῷδ᾿ ἀγὼν μέγιστος, ἢ κακὸν λαβεῖν
ἢ χρηστόν· οὐ γὰρ εὐκλεεῖς ἀπαλλαγαὶ
γυναιξὶν οὐδ᾿ οἷόν τ᾿ ἀνήνασθαι πόσιν.
ἐς καινὰ δ᾿ ἤθη καὶ νόμους ἀφιγμένην
δεῖ μάντιν εἶναι, μὴ μαθοῦσαν οἴκοθεν,
ὅπως ἄριστα χρήσεται ξυνευνέτῃ.

Euripides, Medea 252-258

“But the same story does not apply to both me and you.
You have your city and your father’s home,
A life’s benefit and the presence of friends.
I am alone, stateless, taken violently by this
Husband, kidnapped as spoil from a foreign land,
I have no mother, no brother, no cousin
To provide me safe harbor from this storm.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὐ γὰρ αὑτὸς πρὸς σὲ κἄμ᾿ ἥκει λόγος·
σοὶ μὲν πόλις θ᾿ ἥδ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ πατρὸς δόμοι
βίου τ᾿ ὄνησις καὶ φίλων συνουσία,
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔρημος ἄπολις οὖσ᾿ ὑβρίζομαι
πρὸς ἀνδρός, ἐκ γῆς βαρβάρου λελῃσμένη,
οὐ μητέρ᾿, οὐκ ἀδελφόν, οὐχὶ συγγενῆ
μεθορμίσασθαι τῆσδ᾿ ἔχουσα συμφορᾶς.

Euripides, Medea 357-356

“I am not like a tyrant in the least:
I have suffered much because of my sense of shame.
Now, even though I see you making a mistake, woman,
You will still get what you ask. But I am warning you:
If the sun rises tomorrow to see you here
And your children within the borders of this land,
You die. This speech is not uttered as a lie.
But, now, if you need to stay, remain for a day.
You won’t do any evil I fear in this time.”

ἥκιστα τοὐμὸν λῆμ᾿ ἔφυ τυραννικόν,
αἰδούμενος δὲ πολλὰ δὴ διέφθορα·
καὶ νῦν ὁρῶ μὲν ἐξαμαρτάνων, γύναι,
ὅμως δὲ τεύξῃ τοῦδε. προυννέπω δέ σοι,
εἴ σ᾿ ἡ ᾿πιοῦσα λαμπὰς ὄψεται θεοῦ
καὶ παῖδας ἐντὸς τῆσδε τερμόνων χθονός,
θανῇ· λέλεκται μῦθος ἀψευδὴς ὅδε.
νῦν δ᾿, εἰ μένειν δεῖ, μίμν᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἡμέραν μίαν·
οὐ γάρ τι δράσεις δεινὸν ὧν φόβος μ᾿ ἔχει.

Roman sarcophagus showing the story of Medea and Creusa. Ca 150 AD. Altes Museum, Berlin.

Porn-Songs and Camel-Sparrows: The Suda’s Strange Sirens

From the Suda, s.v. Seirênas

“The Sirens were some Greek women with beautiful voices in ancient Greek myth who sat on some island and so delighted passers-by with their euphony that they stayed there until death.  From the chest up they had the shape of sparrows but their lower halves were woman.

The mythographers claim that they were small birds with female faces who deceived passers-by, beguiling the ears of those who heard them with pornographic songs. And the song of pleasure has no end that is good, only death.

But the true story is this: there are certain places in the sea, narrowed between hills, which release a high song when the water is compressed into them. When people who sail by hear them they entrust their souls to the water’s swell and they die along with their ships.

The creatures who are called Sirens and Donkey-centaurs in Isaiah are some kind of demons who are foretold for abandoned cities which fall under divine wrath. The Syrians say they are swans. For after swans bathe, they fly from the water and sing a sweet melody in the air. This is why Job says, “I have become the Sirens’ brother, the companion of ostriches. This means that I sing my sufferings just like the ostriches.”

He calls the Sirens strouthoi, but he means what we call ostriches [strouthokamêmlos: “sparrow-camel”]. This is a bird which has the feet and neck of a donkey. There is a saying in the Epigrams “that chatter is sweeter than the Sirens’”. The Sirens were named Thelksiepeia, Peisinoê, and Ligeia. The Island they inhabited was called Anthemousa.”

Σειρῆνας: γυναῖκάς τινας εὐφώνους γεγενῆσθαι μῦθος πρὶν ῾Ελληνικός, αἵ τινες ἐν νησίῳ καθεζόμεναι οὕτως ἔτερπον τοὺς παραπλέοντας διὰ τῆς εὐφωνίας, ὥστε κατέχειν ἐκεῖ μέχρι θανάτου. εἶχον δὲ ἀπὸ μὲν τοῦ θώρακος καὶ ἄνω εἶδος στρουθῶν, τὰ δὲ κάτω γυναικῶν.

οἱ μυθολόγοι Σειρῆνας φασὶ θηλυπρόσωπά τινα ὀρνίθια εἶναι, ἀπατῶντα τοὺς παραπλέοντας, ᾄσμασί τισι πορνικοῖς κηλοῦντα τὰς ἀκοὰς τῶν ἀκροωμένων. καὶ τέλος ἔχει τῆς ἡδονῆς ἡ ᾠδὴ ἕτερον μὲν οὐδὲν χρηστόν, θάνατον δὲ μόνον. ὁ δὲ ἀληθὴς λόγος τοῦτο βούλεται, εἶναι τόπους τινὰς θαλαττίους, ὄρεσί τισιν ἐστενω-μένους, ἐν οἷς θλιβόμενον τὸ ῥεῖθρον λιγυράν τινα φωνὴν ἀποδίδωσιν· ἧς ἐπακούοντες οἱ παραπλέοντες ἐμπιστεύουσι τὰς ἑαυτῶν ψυχὰς τῷ ῥεύματι καὶ αὔτανδροι σὺν ταῖς ναυσὶν ἀπόλλυνται.

αἱ δὲ παρὰ τῷ ᾿Ησαΐᾳ εἰρημέναι Σειρῆνες καὶ ᾿Ονοκένταυροι δαίμονές τινές εἰσιν, οὕτω χρηματιζόμενοι ἐπ’ ἐρημίᾳ πόλεως, ἥτις χόλῳ θεοῦ γίνεται. οἱ δὲ Σύροι τοὺς κύκνους φασὶν εἶναι. καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι λουσάμενοι καὶ ἀναπτάντες ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ τοῦ ἀέρος ἡδύ τι μέλος ᾄδουσιν. ὁ  οὖν ᾿Ιὼβ λέγει, ἀδελφὸς γέγονα Σειρήνων, ἑταῖρος δὲ στρουθῶν. τουτέστιν ᾄδω τὰς ἐμαυτοῦ συμφοράς, ὥσπερ Σειρῆνες.

στρουθοὺς δὲ λέγει, ὃν ἡμεῖς στρουθοκάμηλον λέγομεν, ὄρνεον μὲν ὄντα, πόδας δὲ καὶ τράχηλον ὄνου κεκτημένον. καὶ ἐν ᾿Επιγράμμασι· καὶ τὸ λάλημα κεῖνο τὸ Σειρήνων γλυκύτερον. ὀνόματα Σειρήνων· Θελξιέπεια, Πεισινόη, Λιγεία· ἡ δὲ νῆσος ἣν κατῴκουν ᾿Ανθεμοῦσα.

Image result for Medieval manuscript Greek Sirens
Mirror of History, a MS from Ghent (J. Paul Getty Museum)

What Became of Lais?

There are at least seven poems preserved in the Greek Anthology ‘celebrating’ a courtesan named Lais. The poem controversially attributed to Plato is elegant, compact, and clever. The poem attributed to Antipater is some combination of prosaic, creepy, and cruel.

Plato 6.1 (Greek Anthology)

That Lais who proudly laughed at Hellas
And had swarms of young lovers at her door,
Now gives to Aphrodite this mirror—
Since I won’t look at myself as I am,
And can’t look at myself as I used to be.

ἡ σοβαρὸν γελάσασα καθ᾽ Ἑλλάδος, ἥ ποτ᾽ ἐραστῶν
ἑσμὸν ἐπὶ προθύροις Λαῒς ἔχουσα νέων,
τῇ Παφίῃ τὸ κάτοπτρον: ἐπεὶ τοίη μὲν ὁρᾶσθαι
οὐκ ἐθέλω, οἵη δ᾽ ἦν πάρος οὐ δύναμαι.

Antipater 7.218 (Greek Anthology)

Debauched woman robed in purple and gold,
Love’s accomplice, softer than soft Kypris—
Corinthian Lais, it’s she I hold.
More dazzling than the tumbling waters
Of Peirene’s pellucid spring.
That mortal Cythereia: more pursued
By noble suitors than the unwed
Daughter of Sparta’s king, Tyndarius.
Men enjoyed her favors, her paid-for love.
Now, her saffron-scented tomb: the moist bones
Still redolent with incense unguents,
And her oiled hair exhales its fragrant breath.
For her, Aphrodite scratched her lovely face,
And in his mourning Eros groaned and cried.
If only she hadn’t made of her bed
A slave to money, and open to all—
Hellas would have endured ordeals for her,
Just as it had for Helen.

τὴν καὶ ἅμα χρυσῷ καὶ ἁλουργίδι καὶ σὺν Ἔρωτι
θρυπτομένην, ἁπαλῆς Κύπριδος ἁβροτέραν
Λαΐδ᾽ ἔχω, πολιῆτιν ἁλιζώνοιο Κορίνθου,
Πειρήνης λευκῶν φαιδροτέραν λιβάδων, [p. 124]
τὴν θνητὴν Κυθέρειαν, ἐφ᾽ ᾗ μνηστῆρες ἀγαυοὶ
πλείονες ἢ νύμφης εἵνεκα Τυνδαρίδος,
δρεπτόμενοι χάριτάς τε καὶ ὠνητὴν ἀφροδίτην:
ἧς καὶ ὑπ᾽ εὐώδει τύμβος ὄδωδε κρόκῳ,
ἧς ἔτι κηώεντι μύρῳ τὸ διάβροχον ὀστεῦν,
καὶ λιπαραὶ θυόεν ἄσθμα πνέουσι κόμαι
ᾗ ἔπι καλὸν ἄμυξε κάτα ῥέθος Ἀφρογένεια,
καὶ γοερὸν λύζων ἐστονάχησεν Ἔρως.
εἰ δ᾽ οὐ πάγκοινον δούλην θέτο κέρδεος εὐνήν,
Ἑλλὰς ἄν, ὡς Ἑλένης, τῆσδ᾽ ὕπερ ἔσχε πόνον.

Marble statue of an old woman. 1st Century AD Roman copy of a 2nd Century BC Greek original. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

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.

Heard And Seen: Disagreeing With Thucydides About Women

Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women 1

“Klea, I do not have the same opinion as Thucydides concerning the virtue of women. For he claims that the best woman is the one who has the slimmest reputation among those outside her home, critical or positive—since he believes that the name of a good woman ought to be locked up and kept indoors just like her body.  Gorgias, in fact, is more appealing to me, since he insists that the fame rather than the form of a woman should be known to many. Indeed, the Roman practice seems best: granting praise to women in public after their death just as for men.

So, when Leontis, one of the best women died, you and I had a rather long conversation which did not lack philosophical solace; and now, just as you have asked, I have written down for you the rest of the things one can say supporting the assertion that the virtue of a man and woman are the same thing. This [composition] is historical and is not arranged for pleasurable hearing. But if some pleasure is possible in a persuasive piece thanks to the nature of its example, then the argument itself does not avoid some charm—that aid to explanation—nor is it reluctant to “mix the Graces in with the Muses, a most noble pairing”, in the words of Euripides, basing its credibility on the love of beauty which is a special province of the soul.”

Περὶ ἀρετῆς, ὦ Κλέα, γυναικῶν οὐ τὴν αὐτὴν τῷ Θουκυδίδῃ γνώμην ἔχομεν. ὁ μὲν γάρ, ἧς ἂν ἐλάχιστος ᾖ παρὰ τοῖς ἐκτὸς ψόγου πέρι ἢ ἐπαίνου λόγος, ἀρίστην ἀποφαίνεται, καθάπερ τὸ σῶμα καὶ τοὔνομα τῆς ἀγαθῆς γυναικὸς οἰόμενος δεῖν κατάκλειστον εἶναι καὶ ἀνέξοδον. ἡμῖν δὲ κομψότερος μὲν ὁ Γοργίας φαίνεται, κελεύων μὴ τὸ εἶδος ἀλλὰ τὴν δόξαν εἶναι πολλοῖς γνώριμον τῆς γυναικός· ἄριστα δ᾿ ὁ Ῥωμαίων δοκεῖ νόμος ἔχειν, ὥσπερ ἀνδράσι καὶ γυναιξὶ δημοσίᾳ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν τοὺς προσήκοντας ἀποδιδοὺς ἐπαίνους. διὸ καὶ Λεοντίδος τῆς ἀρίστης ἀποθανούσης, εὐθύς τε μετὰ σοῦ τότε πολὺν λόγον εἴχομεν οὐκ ἀμοιροῦντα παραμυθίας φιλοσόφου, καὶ νῦν, ὡς ἐβουλήθης, τὰ ὑπόλοιπα τῶν λεγομένων εἰς τὸ μίαν εἶναι καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικὸς ἀρετὴν προσανέγραψά σοι, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα. εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα· εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, οὐ φεύγει χάριν ἀποδείξεως συνεργὸν ὁ λόγος οὐδ᾿ αἰσχύνεται

ταῖς Μούσαις
τὰς Χάριτας συγκαταμιγνὺς
καλλίσταν συζυγίαν,

ὡς Εὐριπίδης φησίν, ἐκ τοῦ φιλοκάλου μάλιστα τῆς ψυχῆς ἀναδούμενος τὴν πίστιν.

Giovanni Martinelli – The Three Graces

 

 

How Will I know If She Really Loves Me?

Rufinus 5.87 (from the Greek Anthology)

Melissias will not admit her love,
But her body screams like it’s on the receiving end
Of a quiver of arrows: unsteady steps,
Bouts of gasping breath,
And hollow love-struck sockets.
Now then, O Longings, in your mother’s name,
(Cytherea with the beautiful garland)
Inflame the unyielding woman
Until she cries out, “I’m burning!”

ἀρνεῖται τὸν ἔρωτα Μελισσιάς, ἀλλὰ τὸ σῶμα
κέκραγ᾽ ὡς βελέων δεξάμενον φαρέτρην,
καὶ βάσις ἀστατέουσα, καὶ ἄστατος ἄσθματος ὁρμή,
καὶ κοῖλαι βλεφάρων ἰοτυπεῖς βάσιες.
ἀλλά, Πόθοι, πρὸς μητρὸς ἐϋστεφάνου Κυθερείης,
φλέξατε τὴν ἀπιθῆ, μέχρις ἐρεῖ ‘ Φλέγομαι.’

Comment

Isn’t it strange that the speaker’s great desire is for Melissias to say aloud what he purportedly already knows? This limited ambition begs the question, what in the first place justifies his belief that she’s in love? To hear him tell it, her body gives her away: her eyes, her feet, her breathing. It’s worth noting that the speaker describes Melissias’s body not as showing how she feels but as uttering it (κράζω: to shout, scream, shriek). It’s worth noting precisely because what the speaker is now asking for is more of the same: more utterances, but this time from the mouth. 

But what’s gained by having her mouth join the chorus of signifying body parts? The idea seems to be that the mouth is uniquely subject to the will while eyes and feet, for example, are not. Speech, that is, evidences an internal reality, a second being which might well be free even after the body submits. If that’s the case, then the behavior of the eyes and feet don’t suffice as evidence of the love, undermining the speaker’s explicit claim to the contrary. In other words, it appears the speaker actually doubts the reliability of the signs his conclusion rests on. And so he’s asked for . . . more signs.  

But words, like the body, can deceive. After all, Melissias has denied what she’ll next affirm. Where then is certainty to be found? That’s the speaker’s question, and ours. Here it’s worth recalling Wittgenstein’s insight: at some point the demand for certainty is no longer a desire for knowledge of the object but a desire to be the object. In other words, certainty would require collapsing the third-person and first-person perspectives, such that there would be no difference between saying “I know myself” and “I know her.” And that, I suspect, is beyond the power of the gods.

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.

Ancient Advice for a Rich Woman

Solon Fr. 24

listen up:
equal in riches to the woman
who has piles of silver and gold,
fields of wheat-bearing land,
and horses and mules to boot,
is the woman who has only this:
nice things for her belly, sides, and feet—
and also a season with a lover-boy and a spouse,
while she’s got the necessary vigor,
when it comes around, that season.
this is riches to mortals.
after all, nobody goes into Hades
lugging all her countless stuff.
add to that, she can’t hope to escape
death, or unbearable sickness,
or the coming of awful old age,
by paying a fee.

ἶσόν τοι πλουτοῦσιν ὅτῳ πολὺς ἄργυρός ἐστι
καὶ χρυσὸς καὶ γῆς πυροφόρου πεδία
ἵπποι θ᾽ ἡμίονοί τε, καὶ ᾧ μόνα τ᾽αῦτα πάρεστι,
γαστρί τε καὶ πλευρῇς καὶ ποσὶν ἁβρὰ παθεῖν:
παιδός τ᾿ ἠδὲ γυναικός, ἐπὴν καὶ ταῦτ᾿ ἀφίκηται,
ὥρη, σὺν δ᾿ ἥβη γίνεται ἁρμοδίη.
ταῦτ᾽ ἄφενος θνητοῖσι: τὰ γὰρ περιώσια πάντα
χρήματ᾽ ἔχων οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδεω:
οὐδ᾽ ἂν ἄποινα διδοὺς θάνατον φύγοι οὐδὲ βαρείας
νούσους οὐδὲ κακὸν γῆρας ἐπερχόμενον.

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.

Stepping into the Ring with Lust

Sophocles, Trachiniae 441-445 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Whoever gets in the ring with Lust
Like a boxer with his hands up is stupid.
That one rules even the gods the way he wants.
And me too. How could he not rule a woman like me?”

Ἔρωτι μέν νυν ὅστις ἀντανίσταται
πύκτης ὅπως ἐς χεῖρας, οὐ καλῶς φρονεῖ.
οὗτος γὰρ ἄρχει καὶ θεῶν ὅπως θέλει,
κἀμοῦ γε· πῶς δ᾿ οὐ χἀτέρας οἵας γ᾿ ἐμοῦ;

Sophocles, Trachiniae 464-465 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“I pitied her when I saw her especially
Because her beauty has ruined her life.”

ᾤκτιρα δὴ μάλιστα προσβλέψασ᾿, ὅτι
τὸ κάλλος αὐτῆς τὸν βίον διώλεσεν

“I have an old gift from an ancient beast…”

ἦν μοι παλαιὸν δῶρον ἀρχαίου ποτὲ
θηρός…

Sophocles, Trachiniae 582-3 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“May I never know anything about evil deeds
Nor learn them. I hate those women who commit them.”

κακὰς δὲ τόλμας μήτ᾿ ἐπισταίμην ἐγὼ
μήτ᾿ ἐκμάθοιμι, τάς τε τολμώσας στυγῶ.

The Boxer’s Fresco from Akrotiri

Husbands and Tyrants in the Storm

Euripides, Medea 235-240

“The greatest contest in our life is this: getting a good husband
Or a bad one. For divorces do not bring women
A good reputation and it is impossible to refuse a husband.
When she enters the new ways and laws of his house
She needs to be a prophet, since she has not learned at home
How best to live with this partner. ”

κἀν τῷδ᾿ ἀγὼν μέγιστος, ἢ κακὸν λαβεῖν
ἢ χρηστόν· οὐ γὰρ εὐκλεεῖς ἀπαλλαγαὶ
γυναιξὶν οὐδ᾿ οἷόν τ᾿ ἀνήνασθαι πόσιν.
ἐς καινὰ δ᾿ ἤθη καὶ νόμους ἀφιγμένην
δεῖ μάντιν εἶναι, μὴ μαθοῦσαν οἴκοθεν,
ὅπως ἄριστα χρήσεται ξυνευνέτῃ.

Euripides, Medea 252-258

“But the same story does not apply to both me and you.
You have your city and your father’s home,
A life’s benefit and the presence of friends.
I am alone, stateless, taken violently by this
Husband, kidnapped as spoil from a foreign land,
I have no mother, no brother, no cousin
To provide me safe harbor from this storm.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὐ γὰρ αὑτὸς πρὸς σὲ κἄμ᾿ ἥκει λόγος·
σοὶ μὲν πόλις θ᾿ ἥδ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ πατρὸς δόμοι
βίου τ᾿ ὄνησις καὶ φίλων συνουσία,
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔρημος ἄπολις οὖσ᾿ ὑβρίζομαι
πρὸς ἀνδρός, ἐκ γῆς βαρβάρου λελῃσμένη,
οὐ μητέρ᾿, οὐκ ἀδελφόν, οὐχὶ συγγενῆ
μεθορμίσασθαι τῆσδ᾿ ἔχουσα συμφορᾶς.

Euripides, Medea 357-356

“I am not like a tyrant in the least:
I have suffered much because of my sense of shame.
Now, even though I see you making a mistake, woman,
You will still get what you ask. But I am warning you:
If the sun rises tomorrow to see you here
And your children within the borders of this land,
You die. This speech is not uttered as a lie.
But, now, if you need to stay, remain for a day.
You won’t do any evil I fear in this time.”

ἥκιστα τοὐμὸν λῆμ᾿ ἔφυ τυραννικόν,
αἰδούμενος δὲ πολλὰ δὴ διέφθορα·
καὶ νῦν ὁρῶ μὲν ἐξαμαρτάνων, γύναι,
ὅμως δὲ τεύξῃ τοῦδε. προυννέπω δέ σοι,
εἴ σ᾿ ἡ ᾿πιοῦσα λαμπὰς ὄψεται θεοῦ
καὶ παῖδας ἐντὸς τῆσδε τερμόνων χθονός,
θανῇ· λέλεκται μῦθος ἀψευδὴς ὅδε.
νῦν δ᾿, εἰ μένειν δεῖ, μίμν᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἡμέραν μίαν·
οὐ γάρ τι δράσεις δεινὸν ὧν φόβος μ᾿ ἔχει.

Roman sarcophagus showing the story of Medea and Creusa. Ca 150 AD. Altes Museum, Berlin.

Intersex Births and Superstitious Beliefs

Diodorus Siculus, History 32.12

“Similarly in Naples and many other places there are accounts that sudden changes like this happened—not that male and female were naturally built into a two-bodied type (for that is impossible) but that much to the surprise and mystification of human beings, nature forms some parts of the body deceptively.

This is why we think it is right to describe these kinds of sex changes: not to entertain but so we can help those who are reading this. For there are many people who believe that these kinds of things are signs for the gods and not isolated individuals but even entire communities and cities.  For example, at the beginning of the Marsian war, they say that there was an Italian living near Rome who had married, a hermaphrodite like the one we mentioned earlier and revealed this to his senate. The senate, overwhelmed by superstition and persuaded by the Etruscan interpreters, decided that they should be burned alive. In this case, a person who was like us in nature and was not in truth any monster died unfairly because of the ignorance about their affliction. When there was a similar case near Athens a little while later, they again burned a person alive through ignorance.

People also make up stories about hyenas, that they are female and male at the same time and that they take turns mounting each other annually when this is completely untrue. Each sex has its own kind of nature and they are not mixed up. But there is a time when something deceives when it is presented to someone who is merely glancing. The female has an appendage that looks something like a male feature; and the male has one which corresponds to the female’s.

This is generally the case for all living creatures. Although many monsters of all kinds are born, in truth, they cannot be nourished and are not capable of growing to maturity. Let this be enough said as a redress against superstitious beliefs.”

῾Ομοίως δ’ ἐν τῇ Νεαπόλει καὶ κατ’ ἄλλους τόπους πλείονας ἱστοροῦνται γεγονέναι τοιαῦται περιπέτειαι, οὐκ ἄρρενος καὶ θηλείας φύσεως εἰς δίμορφον τύπον δημιουργηθείσης, ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ τῆς φύσεως διὰ τῶν τοῦ σώματος μερῶν ψευδογραφούσης εἰς ἔκπληξιν καὶ ἀπάτην τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

διόπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς τὰς περιπετείας ταύτας ἀναγραφῆς ἠξιώσαμεν, οὐ ψυχαγωγίας ἀλλ’ ὠφελείας ἕνεκα τῶν ἀναγινωσκόντων. πολλοὶ γὰρ τέρατα τὰ τοιαῦτα νομίζοντες εἶναι δεισιδαιμονοῦσιν, οὐκ ἰδιῶται μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔθνη καὶ πόλεις. κατ’ ἀρχὰς γοῦν τοῦ Μαρσικοῦ πολέμου πλησίον τῆς ῾Ρώμης οἰκοῦντά φασιν ᾿Ιταλικόν, γεγαμηκότα  παραπλήσιον τοῖς εἰρημένοις ἀνδρόγυνον, προσαγγεῖλαι τῇ συγκλήτῳ, τὴν δὲ δεισιδαιμονήσασαν καὶ τοῖς ἀπὸ Τυρρηνίας ἱεροσκόποις πεισθεῖσαν ζῶντα προστάξαι καῦσαι. τοῦτον μὲν οὖν ὁμοίας κεκοινωνηκότα φύσεως, ἀλλ’ οὐ πρὸς ἀλήθειαν τέρας γεγενημένον, φασὶν ἀγνοίᾳ τῆς νόσου παρὰ τὸ προσῆκον ἀπολωλέναι. μετ’ ὀλίγον δὲ καὶ παρ’ ᾿Αθηναίοις τοῦ τοιούτου γενομένου διὰ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τοῦ πάθους ζῶντά φασι κατακαῆναι. καὶ γὰρ τὰς λεγομένας ὑαίνας τινὲς μυθολογοῦσιν ἄρρενας ἅμα καὶ θηλείας ὑπάρχειν, καὶ παρ’ ἐνιαυτὸν ἀλλήλας ὀχεύειν, τῆς ἀληθείας οὐχ οὕτως ἐχούσης. ἑκατέρου γὰρ τοῦ γένους ἁπλῆν ἔχοντος καὶ ἀνεπίμικτον τὴν φύσιν, προσώρισται τὸ ψευδογραφοῦν καὶ παρακρουόμενον τοὺς εἰκῇ θεωροῦντας· τῇ μὲν  γὰρ θηλείᾳ πρόσκειταί τι κατὰ τὴν φύσιν παρεμφερὲς ἄρρενι μορίῳ, τῷ δὲ ἄρρενι κατὰ τὸ ἐναντίον ἔμφασις θηλείας φύσεως. ὁ δ’ αὐτὸς λόγος καὶ ἐπὶ πάντων τῶν ζῴων, γινομένων μὲν πρὸς ἀλήθειαν πολλῶν καὶ παντοδαπῶν τεράτων, μὴ τρεφομένων δὲ καὶ εἰς τελείαν αὔξησιν ἐλθεῖν οὐ δυναμένων. ταῦτα μὲν εἰρήσθω πρὸς διόρθωσιν δεισιδαιμονίας.

Some other related resources:

A collection of intersex tales from Ancient Greece and Rome

Aelian’s account of the Hyena’s alternating Gender

Hilary Ilkay’s essay on “Ovid’s Mythological Hermaphrodite

Cassie Garrison’s Essay on “Gender and Sexuality in Antiquity: The Trial and Consciousness of Callon

A terrible story of an intersex child as an Omen

The Philosopher Favorinus

Image result for hermaphroditus
Marble statue of Hermaphroditus

Heard And Seen: Disagreeing With Thucydides About Women

Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women 1

“Klea, I do not have the same opinion as Thucydides concerning the virtue of women. For he claims that the best woman is the one who has the slimmest reputation among those outside her home, critical or positive—since he believes that the name of a good woman ought to be locked up and kept indoors just like her body.  Gorgias, in fact, is more appealing to me, since he insists that the fame rather than the form of a woman should be known to many. Indeed, the Roman practice seems best: granting praise to women in public after their death just as for men.

So, when Leontis, one of the best women died, you and I had a rather long conversation which did not lack philosophical solace; and now, just as you have asked, I have written down for you the rest of the things one can say supporting the assertion that the virtue of a man and woman are the same thing. This [composition] is historical and is not arranged for pleasurable hearing. But if some pleasure is possible in a persuasive piece thanks to the nature of its example, then the argument itself does not avoid some charm—that aid to explanation—nor is it reluctant to “mix the Graces in with the Muses, a most noble pairing”, in the words of Euripides, basing its credibility on the love of beauty which is a special province of the soul.”

Περὶ ἀρετῆς, ὦ Κλέα, γυναικῶν οὐ τὴν αὐτὴν τῷ Θουκυδίδῃ γνώμην ἔχομεν. ὁ μὲν γάρ, ἧς ἂν ἐλάχιστος ᾖ παρὰ τοῖς ἐκτὸς ψόγου πέρι ἢ ἐπαίνου λόγος, ἀρίστην ἀποφαίνεται, καθάπερ τὸ σῶμα καὶ τοὔνομα τῆς ἀγαθῆς γυναικὸς οἰόμενος δεῖν κατάκλειστον εἶναι καὶ ἀνέξοδον. ἡμῖν δὲ κομψότερος μὲν ὁ Γοργίας φαίνεται, κελεύων μὴ τὸ εἶδος ἀλλὰ τὴν δόξαν εἶναι πολλοῖς γνώριμον τῆς γυναικός· ἄριστα δ᾿ ὁ Ῥωμαίων δοκεῖ νόμος ἔχειν, ὥσπερ ἀνδράσι καὶ γυναιξὶ δημοσίᾳ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν τοὺς προσήκοντας ἀποδιδοὺς ἐπαίνους. διὸ καὶ Λεοντίδος τῆς ἀρίστης ἀποθανούσης, εὐθύς τε μετὰ σοῦ τότε πολὺν λόγον εἴχομεν οὐκ ἀμοιροῦντα παραμυθίας φιλοσόφου, καὶ νῦν, ὡς ἐβουλήθης, τὰ ὑπόλοιπα τῶν λεγομένων εἰς τὸ μίαν εἶναι καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικὸς ἀρετὴν προσανέγραψά σοι, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα. εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα· εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, οὐ φεύγει χάριν ἀποδείξεως συνεργὸν ὁ λόγος οὐδ᾿ αἰσχύνεται

ταῖς Μούσαις
τὰς Χάριτας συγκαταμιγνὺς
καλλίσταν συζυγίαν,

ὡς Εὐριπίδης φησίν, ἐκ τοῦ φιλοκάλου μάλιστα τῆς ψυχῆς ἀναδούμενος τὴν πίστιν.

Giovanni Martinelli – The Three Graces