Favorinus Was A Hermaphrodite Tried for Adultery (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 489)

While waiting for students to come to office hours today (and they never did), I was reading Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists and came across the following anecdote about the sophist Favorinus.

“Similarly, eloquence enrolled Favorinus among the ranks of the sophists. He was one who came from the Gauls in the west, from the city of Arelatus [Arles] near the Eridanus river [the Rhone]. He was born double-formed, that is, a hermaphrodite, and this was clear also in his appearance since his face was beardless as he grew old. It was also clear from his voice—it sounded high-pitched, thin, and shrill, the type of voice nature fits to eunuchs. But he was so hot about sex that he incurred a charge of adultery from a man of consular rank. Despite the fact that he argued with the emperor Hadrian, he suffered no ill. For this reason he used to prophesy that his life had these three paradoxes: Even though he was from Gaul, he lived as a Greek; even though he was a eunuch, he had been to court for adultery; and he had fought with a king and lived….”

῾Ομοίως καὶ Φαβωρῖνον τὸν φιλόσοφον ἡ εὐγλωττία ἐν σοφισταῖς ἐκήρυττεν. ἦν μὲν γὰρ τῶν ἑσπερίων Γαλατῶν οὗτος, ᾿Αρελάτου πόλεως, ἣ ἐπὶ ᾿Ηριδανῷ ποταμῷ ᾤκισται, διφυὴς δὲ ἐτέχθη καὶ ἀνδρόθηλυς, καὶ τοῦτο ἐδηλοῦτο μὲν καὶ παρὰ τοῦ εἴδους, ἀγενείως γὰρ τοῦ προσώπου καὶ γηράσκων εἶχεν, ἐδηλοῦτο δὲ καὶ τῷ φθέγματι, ὀξυηχὲς γὰρ ἠκούετο καὶ λεπτὸν καὶ ἐπίτονον, ὥσπερ ἡ φύσις τοὺς εὐνούχους ἥρμοκεν. θερμὸς δὲ οὕτω τις ἦν τὰ ἐρωτικά, ὡς καὶ μοιχοῦ λαβεῖν αἰτίαν ἐξ ἀνδρὸς ὑπάτου. διαφορᾶς δὲ αὐτῷ πρὸς ᾿Αδριανὸν βασιλέα γενομένης οὐδὲν ἔπαθεν. ὅθεν ὡς παράδοξα ἐπεχρησμῴδει τῷ ἑαυτοῦ βίῳ τρία ταῦτα· Γαλάτης ὢν ἑλληνίζειν, εὐνοῦχος ὢν μοιχείας κρίνεσθαι, βασιλεῖ διαφέρεσθαι καὶ ζῆν. τουτὶ δὲ ᾿Αδριανοῦ ἔπαινος εἴη ἂν μᾶλλον, εἰ βασιλεὺς ὢν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἴσου διεφέρετο πρὸς ὃν ἐξῆν ἀποκτεῖναι. βασιλεὺς δὲ κρείττων,

This is truly a strange tale about Favorinus and I am not quite sure what to make of his hermaphroditism (which seems treated here without prejudice or extensive comment). The term Philostratus uses to describe it (ἀνδρόθηλυς) only occurs in one other place (Schol. To Lykophron 212.48). The anecdote itself is funny—but I think it might be a really interesting place to start a cultural history of the motif of hermaphroditism in the ancient world.

Alas, I am not a cultural historian….

Whence Commodus? Blood-Magic or Adultery (Historia Augusta, Marc. Ant. 19)

[Earlier we posted a passage contrasting the virtue of Marcus Antoninus (Aurelius) with the vice of his son Commodus. here’s the rest.]

“Some men report a thing which seems likely, that Commodus Antoninus, his son and successor, was born not from him but from adultery and they support such a tale with a common rumor. There was a time when Faustina, Pius’ daughter and Marcus’ wife, saw some gladiators pass and was set afire with love for one of them. Later, when she was suffering from a long sickness, she told her husband about this. When Marcus relayed this to the Chaldaeans, their advice was that he should have Faustina bathe herself in the blood of the killed gladiator and then lie with her husband. When this act was complete, the passion was quenched, though their son Commodus was as a result born to be a gladiator not a princeps. This tale is treated as likely since there was never a son of a prince so virtuous with ways worse than a gladiator master, a street-actor or some arena-fighter, a man who could summon up a trophy of crimes from a surfeit of blessings.

Many others, however, claim that Commodus was really conceived through adultery because it is known that when Faustina was at Caieta she would choose lovers from the sailors and the gladiators. When this was mentioned to Marcus Aurelius so that he would reject her or kill her, he is reported to have replied, “If I divorce my wife, I must return her dowry.” And what did he consider her dowry but the empire which he had received when he was adopted by his father-in-law at Hadrian’s urging.”

Aiunt quidam, quod et verisimile videtur, Commodum Antoninum, successorem illius ac filium, non esse de eo natum sed de adulterio, ac talem fabellam vulgari sermone contexunt. 2 Faustinam quondam, Pii filiam, Marci uxorem, cum gladiatores transire vidisset, unius ex his amore succensam, cum longa aegritudine laboraret, viro de amore confessam. 3 Quod cum ad Chaldaeos Marcus rettulisset, illorum fuisse consilium, ut occiso gladiatore sanguine illius sese Faustina sublavaret atque ita cum viro concumberet. 4 Quod cum esset factum, solutum quidem amorem, natum vero Commodum gladiatorem esse, non principem, 5 qui mille prope pugnas publice populo inspectante gladiatorias imperator exhibuit, ut in vita eius docebitur. 6 Quod quidem verisimile ex eo habetur, quod tam sancti principis filius his moribus fuit, quibus nullus lanista, nullus scaenicus, nullus arenarius, nullus postremo ex omnium decorum ac scelerum conluvione concretus. 7 Multi autem ferunt Commodum omnino ex adultero natum, si quidem Faustinam satis constet apud Caietam condiciones sibi et nauticas et gladiatorias elegisse. 8 De qua cum diceretur Antonino Marco, ut eam repudiaret, si non occideret, dixisse fertur : “Si uxorem dimittimus, reddamus et dotem.” 9 Dos autem quid habebatur [nisi] imperium, quod ille ab socero volente Hadriano adoptatus acceperat?

Historia Augusta: Hadrian, XVI: Hurt Feelings and a Great Retirement Plan

“Although he was quick to rebuke musicians, tragedians, comedians, grammarians, rhetoricians, and orators, he still honored all the professors and made them rich—and he continued to annoy them with questions. And, while he was to blame for the fact that many left him in sorrow, he used to say that he could scarcely bear watching someone get their feelings hurt. He was especially close to the philosophers Epictetus and Heliodorus and all sorts of grammarians, rhetoricians, musicians, geometricians, painters, and astrologers, though I would not name them all—and many claim that Favorinus stood out from the rest. The teachers who seemed unfit for their own profession, Hadrian dismissed from their work with money and honors.”

8 Sed quamvis esset in reprehendendis musicis, tragicis, comicis, grammaticis, rhetoribus, oratoribus facilis, tamen omnes professores et honoravit et divites fecit, licet eos quaestionibus semper agitaverit. 9 Et cum ipse auctor esset, ut multi ab eo tristes recederent, dicebat se graviter ferre, si quem tristem videret. 10 In summa familiaritate Epictetum et Heliodorum philosophos et, ne nominatim de omnibus dicam, grammaticos, rhetores, musicos, geometras, pictores, astrologos habuit, prae ceteris, ut multi adserunt, eminente Favorino. 11 Doctores, qui professioni suae inhabiles videbantur, dilatos honoratosque a professione dimisit.

The Historia Augusta are a collection of biographies of Roman Emperors starting with Hadrian (117-138 CE)

Apuleius, Apologia 11.11-14

When the divine Hadrian was adorning the tomb of his friend Voconus the poet, he wrote thus: ‘you were wanton in verse, but your mind was pure.’ He would have never said this, were charming poems to be considered a proof of wantonness.

Divus Adrianus cum Voconi amici sui poetae tumulum vorsibus muneraretur, ita scripsit: ‘lascivus versu, mente pudicus eras,’ quod numquam ita dixisset, si forent lepidiora carmina argumentum impudicitiae habenda.