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

Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

“Habit Just Like Nature”: Tawdry Tuesday, Confused Biology Edition

There is a lot in this that is interesting, challenging, and infuriating (both syntactically and semantically). Beyond a regressive albeit typically Aristotelian assumption that (1) there is an absolute category of “according to nature” and (2) the category of the natural is good, we find the objectionable and horrific positioning of non-heteronormative men and all women as monstrous. (In more canonical work, Aristotle clearly claims that women are a deformed human, less than male.)  But within all of this, we have a fascinating acknowledgement that human sexuality and desire is shaped by culture and habit.

Aristotle, Problems 4.26

“Why is it that some men enjoy being passive in sex and some also enjoy being active, while others do not? Is this because for each effluent there is a place into which it is received naturally and when effort is applied, it causes the force to swell as it exits and then it expels it? Examples of this include urine in the bladder, food which has been digested in the stomach, tears in the eyes, mucus in the nose, or blood in the veins.

It is the same way when it comes to semen in the testicles and penis. When people do not have the same natural passages, either because those which flow to the penis have been blocked up—as what happens with eunuchs and those like eunuchs or for some other reason—then the secretion flows instead into the anus. For this is the direction it goes. An indication of this is the spasming of that part of the body during sexual intercourse and the simultaneous weakening of the area around the anus. So, if someone is extreme in desire, then the material (semen) comes together there, with the result that, whenever desire develops, the place where desire is located yearns for friction.

Desire can arise from both nourishment and imagination. But whenever it is moved by anything, then the pneuma increases there and the effluent flows to the place where it is most natural. So, when the semen is light or full of pneuma, then upon its release the erections stop, as they often do with young children and old men, when no liquid is expelled or when the moisture has dried up.

But if someone has neither of these experiences, he feels desire until something happens. The more effeminate men are set up by nature in such a way that no semen—or very little—is kept in that place it is designated for by nature but instead into that area we mentioned above. The reason for this is because they are arranged against nature. For, even though they are male they are developed in such away that this part of their bodies is deformed. This deformity makes them either completely ruined or twisted. But it is not complete destruction, because then he would be a woman. For this reason it is necessary that things be distorted and the force of the expulsion of the semen should move through some other place.

This is why they cannot be pleased, like women. For there is little ejaculate and it is not compelled to exit, but instead it cools quickly. The desire to be passive develops in the men whose semen cools in the anus; those whose bodies cool semen in both places, desire to play both roles. Yet, they desire more to play the part based on where a greater preponderance of semen is cooling.

For some people this activity comes from habit. It turns out that people enjoy doing the things they do and ejaculate when they do. Therefore, they long to do the things which makes this happen and practice can become something more like nature. For this reason, whoever has not learned to submit passively to sex before puberty but instead start the practice at the time of puberty, desire the same thing, to be passive in sex. This is because of the memory they keep from the experience and the pleasure that comes with the memory and it is from the habit they develop, as if it were natural. Really, many other things and habit too develop as if they are natural. If one happens to be libidinous and soft, then each of these things happens with greater speed.”

 

Διὰ τί ἔνιοι ἀφροδισιαζόμενοι χαίρουσι, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἅμα δρῶντες, οἱ δ᾿ οὔ; ἢ ὅτι ἔστιν ἑκάστῃ περιττώσει τόπος ǁ εἰς ὃν πέφυκεν ἀποκρίνεσθαι κατὰ φύσιν, καὶ πόνου ἐγγινομένου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐξιὸν ἀνοιδεῖν ποιεῖ, καὶ συνεκκρίνει αὐτήν, οἷον τὸ μὲν οὖρον εἰς κύστιν, ἡ δ᾿ ἐξικμασμένη τροφὴ εἰς κοιλίαν, τὸ δὲ δάκρυον εἰς ὄμματα, μύξαι δ᾿ εἰς μυκτῆρας, | αἷμα δὲ εἰς φλέβας; ὁμοίως δὴ τούτοις καὶ ἡ γονὴ εἰς ὄρχεις καὶ αἰδοῖα. οἷς δὴ οἱ πόροι μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ἢ διὰ τὸ ἀποτυφλωθῆναι τοὺς εἰς τὸ αἰδοῖον, οἷον συμβαίνει τοῖς εὐνούχοις καὶ εὐνουχίαις, ἢ καὶ ἄλλως, εἰς τὴν ἕδραν συρρεῖ ἡ τοιαύτη ἰκμάς· καὶ γὰρ διεξέρχεται ταύτῃ. σημεῖον | δ᾿ ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ ἡ συναγωγὴ τοῦ τοιούτου τόπου καὶ ἡ σύντηξις τῶν περὶ τὴν ἕδραν. ἐὰν οὖν ὑπερβάλλῃ τις τῇ λαγνείᾳ, τούτοις ἐνταῦθα συνέρχεται, ὥστε ὅταν ἡ ἐπιθυμία γένηται, τοῦτ᾿ ἐπιθυμεῖ τῆς τρίψεως εἰς ὃ συλλέγεται. ἡ δ᾿ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ἀπὸ σιτίων καὶ ἀπὸ διανοίας γίνεται. ὅταν | γὰρ κινηθῇ ὑφ᾿ ὁτουοῦν, ἐνταῦθα τὸ πνεῦμα συντρέχει, καὶ τὸ τοιοῦτο περίττωμα συρρεῖ οὗ πέφυκεν. κἂν μὲν λεπτὸν ᾖ ἢ πνευματῶδες, τούτου ἐξελθόντος, ὥσπερ αἱ συντάσεις τοῖς παισὶ καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ ἐνίοτε, οὐθενὸς ὑγροῦ ἐκκριθέντος, παύονται, ὅταν τε κατασβεσθῇ τὸ ὑγρόν.

ἐὰν δὲ μηδέτερον | τούτων πάθῃ, ἐπιθυμεῖ ἕως ἄν τι τούτων συμβῇ. οἱ δὲ φύσει θηλυδρίαι οὕτω συνεστᾶσιν ὥστ᾿ ἐκεῖ μὲν μὴ ἐκκρίνεσθαι ἢ ὀλίγην, οὗπερ τοῖς ἔχουσι κατὰ φύσιν ἐκκρίνεται, εἰς δὲ τὸν τόπον τοῦτον. αἴτιον δὲ ὅτι παρὰ φύσιν συνεστᾶσιν· ἄρσενες γὰρ ὄντες οὕτω διάκεινται ὥστε ἀνάγκη τὸν τόπον | τοῦτον πεπηρῶσθαι αὐτῶν. πήρωσις δὲ ἡ μὲν ὅλως ποιεῖ φθόρον, ἡ δὲ διαστροφήν. ἐκείνη μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἔστιν· γυνὴ γὰρ ἂν ἐγένετο. ἀνάγκη ἄρα παρεστράφθαι καὶ ἄλλοθί που ὁρμᾶν τῆς γονικῆς ἐκκρίσεως. διὸ καὶ ἄπληστοι, ὥσπερ αἱ γυναῖκες· ὀλίγη γὰρ ἡ ἰκμάς, καὶ οὐ βιάζεται ἐξιέναι,  καὶ | καταψύχεται ταχύ. καὶ ὅσοις μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν ἕδραν, οὗτοι πάσχειν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν, ὅσοις δ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἀμφότερα, οὗτοι καὶ δρᾶν καὶ πάσχειν· ἐφ᾿ ὁπότερα δὲ πλεῖον, τούτου μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσιν. ἐνίοις δὲ γίνεται καὶ ἐξ ἔθους τὸ πάθος τοῦτο. ὅσα γὰρ ἂν ποιῶσι, συμβαίνει αὐτοῖς χαίρειν καὶ προΐεσθαι | τὴν γονὴν οὕτως. ἐπιθυμοῦσιν οὖν ποιεῖν οἷς ἂν ταῦτα γίνηται, καὶ μᾶλλον τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ φύσις γίνεται. διὰ τοῦτο ὅσοι ἂν μὴ πρὸ ἥβης ἀλλὰ περὶ ἥβην ἐθισθῶσιν ἀφροδισιάζεσθαι, δισιάζεσθαι, ǁ διὰ τὸ γίνεσθαι αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ χρείᾳ τὴν μνήμην, ἅμα δὲ τῇ μνήμῃ τὴν ἡδονήν, διὰ [δὲ] τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκότες ἐπιθυμοῦσι πάσχειν· τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται. ἐὰν δὲ τύχῃ λάγνος | ὢν καὶ μαλακός, καὶ θᾶττον ἕκαστα τούτων συμβαίνει.

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The assertion late in this segment, that “many things and habit too develop as if they are natural” τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται is the closest thing to the attributed “habit is second nature.” Given the genealogy and the implications of this belief, it is, well, complicated.

A Not So Tawdry Recipe For Your, Um, Growing Problem

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists Book 7, 326f

“If you immerse a red mullet in wine while it is still alive and a man drinks this, he will be impotent, as Terpsikles records in his work On Sexual Matters. If a woman drinks the same mixture, she will not get pregnant. The same thing does not happen with a chicken.”

ἐὰν δ᾿ ἐναποπνιγῇ τρίγλη ζῶσα ἐν οἴνῳ καὶ τοῦτο ἀνὴρ πίῃ, ἀφροδισιάζειν οὐ δυνήσεται, ὡς Τερψικλῆς ἱστορεῖ ἐν τῷ Περὶ Ἀφροδισίων· κἂν γυνὴ δὲ πίῃ τοῦ αὐτοῦ οἴνου, οὐ κυΐσκεται. ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ ὄρνις.

Image result for ancient mosaic red mullet
Spot the (extra)potence cure.

Reclaiming the Story: Ovid’s Mythological Hermaphrodite

[Note: Hilary Ilkay (@hilsgotilk) reached out to us after Cassie Garison’s post on Callon with a post about Hermaphroditus. Given the topic, the quality of the post and current events, we are happy to be able to share this.]

The daughters of Minyas narrate the first half of book 4 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, regaling each other with tales of violent, destructive desire to help pass the time as they weave. When it is Alcithoe’s turn to spin a story, she highlights the charming novelty of her subject matter, referring to it as “dulci…novitate” (Ovid Met. 4.284). Her assertion of the narrative’s novelty is justified not only in the context of the stories shared by her sisters, but of Ovid’s text as a whole. The Metamorphoses is replete with gender ambiguity, and some characters even transform from one sex into another (the most noteworthy examples are Tiresias in book 3, Iphis in book 9, and Caeneus/Caens in book 12). Alcithoe’s story, however, is unique in that it features a figure who unites both sexes into one form – namely, the hermaphrodite.

This is new territory in more ways than one. Ovid was the first, as far as we know, to narrativize the relationship between Salmacis, the nymph whose name is given to the infamous spring she inhabits, and Hermaphroditus, the young son of Hermes and Aphrodite. A Greek inscription at Halicarnassus, referred to as the “Salmakis inscription,” celebrates Hermaphroditus as the inventor of marriage, though there is no explicit mention of his intersex nature. He is called a boy, κου̑ρος, and Salmacis is referred to as his nursing mother, κουροτρόφος. Robert Groves observes that “the logic that makes [Hermaphroditus] a god of marriage is predicated on a special ability to unite male and female” (2016, 323). As we shall see, Ovid departs greatly from the tradition that preceded him in his articulation of the tale. Like Alcithoe, he aims to enchant the reader’s mind with a new sort of story, to weave the known figure of Hermaphroditus into the mythical framework of his poem.

Alcithoe proposes to recount an etiological account of the ill-reputed spring of Salmacis, whose waters render its bathers effeminate and soften their limbs (“Salmacis enervet tactosque remolliat artus,” Ovid Met. 4.286). The statement that the cause of the spring’s powers lies hidden (“causa latet,” 4.287) is layered with meaning: it provides a framework for the story Alcithoe is about to tell, and it foreshadows the moment when the predatory Salmacis lies in wait as the youth prepares to bathe in the spring. More generally, it also gestures toward the lack of knowledge regarding the generation and nature of intersex beings, a seemingly inexplicable phenomenon to the Romans. Rather than attempting a medical explanation, Ovid turns to narrative to uncover the hidden causa, creating an origin story that identifies the hermaphrodite with a particular topos of transformation.

When Ovid introduces the puer (youth), he conceals his name, saying only that he is the child of Mercury (the Greek Hermes) and “the Cytherean goddess” (the Greek Aphrodite), and that his name derives from theirs. This indirect invocation of the boy’s parentage delays the revelation of his identity until the end of the episode: his name “lies hidden” much like the causa behind the mystery of the spring. As the god who is ubiquitously depicted with an erect phallus on ancient herms, Hermes is a hyper-masculine divine figure, while Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual desire who is typically depicted nude or semi-nude, is a hyper-feminine immortal. Together, they produce a son “whose face was one in which mother and father could be recognized” (“cuius erat facies, in qua materque paterque cognosci possent,” 4.290-1). The striking use of the passive voice renders the youth an object of a hypothetical gaze. At this early point in the story, it is unclear in what sense both parents are discernible in the boy’s appearance, though the literal truth of this seemingly innocuous statement – – for surely all parents are reflected in their children —  will become actualized in the conclusion of the tale.

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Francesco Albani, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, ca. 1645–1650. Oil on canvas, 60 × 74 cm. Turino, Galleria Sabauda 89  (Naples; Photo Credit: H. Ilkay)

As is customary for Ovidian teenagers, the boy embarks on a series of rural wanderings, eventually coming upon a “a pool of water clear all the way to the bottom” (“stagnum lucentis ad imum usque solum lymphae,” 4.297-8). This is a classic Ovidian locus that may be amoenus (pleasant) on the shimmering surface, but that conceals a sinister threat. Narcissus’s fatal encounter with an almost identical transparent pool in the previous book triggers a red flag in the imagination of the reader. The fact that the spring is inhabited by a nymph further evokes the unhappy fate of Actaeon (also in book 3), who comes upon the goddess Diana attended by her nymphs while she is bathing. Ovid mentions earlier in the story that the roving puer was, in fact, reared by a community of female naiads, so there is a great deal of suspense in this moment of encounter with the nymph/pool.

The tension builds when we learn that the nymph in question is of an atypical sort. She exempts herself from the retinue of Diana’s hunting, swiftly running maidens, making herself an outsider to her community. We learn her name, Salmacis, when the narrator speaks in the voice of her sisters, who chastise her for spurning the spear and quiver. Salmacis’s aberrance is underscored in her ceaseless devotion to otium (leisure) and to her personal beauty regimen. Ovid describes the crux of her transgressive behavior in a stunning passage: “she bathes her beautiful limbs in her own spring…and she consults the waters to behold what becomes her” (“fonte suo formosos perluit artus…et, quid se deceat, spectatas consulit undas,” 4.310, 312).

The reflexivity of fonte suo, and the fact that Salmacis enfolds herself in a diaphanous robe (“perlucenti…amictu,” 4.313), reveal the slippage between Salmacis as nymph and as watery pool, which will become crucial as the story progresses. Unlike Narcissus, who was destroyed by his inability to know himself as both the subject and object of his desire, Salmacis exerts control over her act of self-looking, consciously making herself the recipient of a projected “male gaze.”

Salmacis therefore possesses a sort of hybrid double vision, a merging of female and male that gestures at her impending transformation. When she first spots the puer, she not only sees him through the eyes of a desiring woman, but also envisions him seeing her. It is no accident that the nymph is “deflowering” the landscape when she sets eyes on the youth. Another instance of gender reversal occurs once Salmacis makes herself worthy to be seen by the boy and addresses him in a speech that recalls the language employed by the swarthy Odysseus to charm Nausicaa. While Odysseus only alludes to Nausicaa’s future marriage, Salmacis offers herself as a bride. In response, the youth blushes like a virginal girl, “since he does not know what love is” (nescit, enim, quid amor,” 4.330) —  an unexpected reaction from the person who is supposed to have invented marriage.

As the nymph’s propositions become more physical, the puer rebuffs her with harsh words, threatening to flee the scene. Salmacis pretends to cede the pool to him but crouches in a nearby thicket, watching as he strips naked and dives into the water. Her desire to embrace the boy is flamed to a fever pitch at the sight of his body: Ovid describes her as “out of her mind” (amens, 4.351) in this moment. Proclaiming victory over her erotic conquest, she exclaims, “We have won and he is mine” (“vicimus et meus est,” 4.357), dives naked into the water, and begins to cling feverishly to the boy. Her use of the plural verbal form foreshadows the imminent transfiguration. In describing their struggle – a chaotic tangle of limbs and unwanted sexual advances – Ovid deploys a masterful tripartite simile (4.362-367):

She enfolds him like a serpent, whom a kingly bird [eagle] clutches and snatches aloft: hanging down, she binds herself fast around its head and feet and entwines his spreading wings with her tail; or like tendrils of ivy tend to interlace lofty tree trunks; or like a polypus [octopus/cuttlefish] encompasses its enemy, caught under the sea, its tentacles casting around it on every side.

inplicat ut serpens, quam regia sustinet ales
sublimemque rapit: pendens caput illa pedesque
adligat et cauda spatiantes inplicat alas;
utve solent hederae longos intexere truncos,
utque sub aequoribus deprensum polypus hostem
continet ex omni dimissis parte flagellis.

The transition from one image to another is dizzying. We begin in the sky, which is the domain of Hermes, the god with winged sandals; we then come crashing down to earth with an image drawn from nature of a parasitic plant; finally, we are submerged in the sea, from which Aphrodite is said to have been born and where the struggle between boy and nymph is currently taking place. In her desperation to possess the youth, Salmacis utters a prayer to the gods, that “no day separate that one of yours from me or me from that one of yours” (“istum/nulla dies a me nec me deducat ab isto,” 4.371-2). Her repetition of pronouns emphasizes the inextricable and permanent nature of the bond she desires. Moreover, the marked use of iste implies a connection between the youth and the gods she is addressing: perhaps even a familial connection. The particular divinities she supplicates are never explicitly revealed.

Now comes the fateful moment of transformation enacted by the gods, who take Salmacis at her word and fuse the two beings together (4.373-9):

The intermingled bodies of the two are joined together, and one form is brought upon them. Just as if someone grafts a branch onto a tree sees that they are joined in growth and mature equally, so whenever their limbs come together in a tenacious embrace they are not two and their form is double, so that it is able to be called neither woman nor man, and they seem simultaneously neither and both.

…mixta duorum
corpora iunguntur, faciesque inducitur illis
una. velut, si quis conducat cortice ramos,
crescendo iungi pariterque adolescere cernit,
sic ubi conplexu coierunt membra tenaci,
nec duo sunt et forma duplex, nec femina dici
nec puer ut possit, neutrumque et utrumque videntur.

The transformation is sudden and chaotic, leaving a mess of ambiguity in its wake. Ovid uses another arboreal simile, and the fruitful, cooperative union of the grafted branch and tree contrasts sharply with the sterility of the hermaphrodite. The sexually charged verb coierunt drives this contrast home, since procreation is now an impossibility. Wordplay abounds in the final lines of the passage. They are not two, but twofold. Conventional categories of “woman” and “man” become inadequate to the radical doubleness that has been created. The hermaphrodite resists interpretation, concealing its true nature behind a cloak of ambiguity.

At this stage, Ovid retains the plural verbal form to describe the merged couple. The episode ends, however, with a singular entity (4.380-386):

When he sees that the clear waters, into which he descended as a man, have made him half-man and that his limbs have been softened in them, Hermaphroditus, stretching out his hands, says the following, but in a voice no longer manly: ‘Both father and mother, grant this favor to your child, who bears the name of both: whoever enters this pool as a man, may he leave it a half-man and may he immediately weaken at the water’s touch.’

…ubi se liquidas, quo vir descenderat, undas
semimarem fecisse videt mollitaque in illis
membra, manus tendens, sed iam non 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!’

Finally, the truth of the youth’s name, Hermaphroditus, is revealed. Ovid is the first to use the Latin word semimas in this context, revealing that the hermaphrodite necessitates a transformation of language itself. Upon seeing his metamorphosis and confronting a body that has become monstrously other, Hermaphroditus’s immediate impulse is to issue his own prayer. The vengeful curse is, significantly, intended only for men: he desires that others who are seduced by the stream share his bitter fate. His parents all too happily oblige the wish of their “two-formed” (biformis) child and imbue the water with an “impure drug” (“incesto medicamine,” 4.388). With this final act of transformation, Alcithoe’s promised origin story of Salmacis’s pool is complete.

Although the gender of the newly formed hermaphrodite is syntactically indeterminate, it is psychologically masculine. Hermaphroditus may not speak in the voice of a man (non voce virili), but he certainly thinks as one. Aside from the female features of the intersex body, Salmacis seems to be preserved merely in the feminine tone of the voice, recalling the incorporeal presence of another vanishing nymph, Echo, in book 3, for whom “only the voice remains” (“vox tantum…manet,” Ovid Met. 3.398-9). While Salmacis originally enjoyed a split existence as both nymph and spring, her entire being is now submerged in the infamous pool, whereas the youth’s name is imprinted upon the new being that has been produced.

Ovid does not reproduce the globular hermaphrodites described by the playwright Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium. In Aristophanes’s account, the two selves of the beings in question are distinct even in their physical union, and when they are cut in half they cling to each other in an attempt to recreate their primordial oneness. By contrast, the two individuals in Ovid’s tale are collapsed into a single body and a single consciousness. Salmacis gets her wish, but at a price.  

The hermaphrodite in the Metamorphoses is the result of a gendered process of emasculation, an imposition of the aggressive, hyper-sexualized female onto the unsuspecting, sexless male. It is clear, therefore, that in Ovid’s universe, one is not born, but rather becomes, a hermaphrodite (to riff on Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking statement about women); and to become a hermaphrodite is not to become doubled – both man and woman — but to become halved — an effeminate, weakened, softened semivir. That the hermaphrodite is not “born this way,” like the Minotaur, for example, is a crucial detail. It highlights the experience of feeling helplessly trapped in a body that is at once familiar and foreign. A number of questions about Hermaphroditus’s future are raised at the end of Alcithoe’s story. How will they live in the world? Will they try to “pass” as either a woman or a man? What are their desires, their fears? How will they experience themselves? How will others experience them?

In his entry on the hermaphrodite in Diderot and d’Alembert’s multi-volume Encyclopédie (1751-77), Louis de Jaucourt suggests that this “prodigy of nature” was not viewed favorably by many ancients, if the story told by Alexander ab Alexandro is true: namely, that the Greeks and Romans viewed hermaphrodites as monsters. According to Jaucourt’s source, they were thrown into the sea at Athens and into the Tiber in Rome – turning the element that engendered them into a watery grave. Since antiquity, people who slip into the gaps between binaries have been misunderstood, misrepresented, and mistreated. It is one thing to gaze upon aestheticized hermaphrodites in sculpture, which were, in fact, popular in antiquity, but quite another to encounter a real intersex being in one’s midst. We can only imagine how Hermaphroditus’s story might have ended. His intersex form would have been a mark of shame and transgression not only to himself, but to the larger human community.

Ovid is clear, however, to make his hermaphrodite not something nefandum (unspeakable), but rather a figure that requires a new sort of story. Today, We find ourselves in a similar position, as we try to transform our language, write new narratives, and challenge constructed binaries in order to make room for new modes of living in the world. Identities that are genderfluid/genderqueer/non-binary embrace a hermaphroditic approach to gender, using self-presentation as a form of embodied resistance against the oppressive structures that dictate how we experience ourselves and the world. In the world of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Hermaphroditus becomes loathsome to himself. Today, we can reclaim the figure of the hermaphrodite to help us continue to challenge and dissolve entrenched understandings about gender and sexuality, until they become as fluid as the waters of Salmacis’s spring.

 

Hilary Ilkay completed a BA in Classics in Halifax, NS and an MA in Liberal Studies in New York City. She is currently an independent researcher, a freelance editor and writer, and a full-time teaching assistant at her alma mater, the University of King’s College. The closest she has come to Twitter fame is when she posted a picture of herself and her boyfriend dressed as Loeb Classical Library texts (she was Ovid) two Halloweens ago and it went viral among Classics nerds. 

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Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Antiquity: The Trial and Consciousness of Callon

[Editorial note: We are happy to have this guest post by Cassie Garison who reached out to us after our recent reposting of intersex stories from ancient Greece and Rome. Cassie brings us a story we did not know and a fine discussion of ancient representations of the relationship between biological gender and the social performance of sex].

A note on translation: “sex-change” today is not a politically correct term to refer to people who choose to get gender affirmation surgery. However, I will use this language as it is a quite literal translation and a literal description of what is happening. In both cases that I will describe there was not agency or intent on behalf of those in reference, and they bear little similarity to those modern instances where there is.  There are also inconsistencies in the language of the translated excerpts, for instance when Tiresias or Callon are labelled men or women. However, gender and sex are not the synonymous, and when referring to anatomical features of the body (albeit even these are not binary in any shape or form) I will use the terms male and female. The language that the translators use to describe gender and sexuality are outdated.

Callon, a figure written into the ancient histories of Diodorus Siculus, demonstrates a unique and at times awkward telling, one that defies historical precedents and does not fit neatly into any known ancient systems. This account is critical to consider even in a contemporary context as it enlightens the way humans are prone and accustomed to projecting their anachronistic understanding of gender and sexuality on the queer body. It demonstrates both the limits of language and the influence of groups in power on history and written accounts. The closest figure to Callon comes in the more well-known in the mythological account of the well-known figure of Tiresias.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tiresias struck two mating snakes with his stick, separating them. Spectacularly, Tiresias’s body changed, in this moment, from male to female. He[1] lived as female for seven years, until the eighth year when he stumbled upon the same pair of copulating snakes and, again, struck them with his stick with the hope that he would again change sex. He transforms, and “from man was turned to woman”(Ovid Met. 3.326). This mythological story is invoked and revisited by numerous ancient and modern authors alike, appearing on Sophocles, Homer, Petronius, Lord Alfred Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf,[2] and many more. Each time this story is iterated it is interpreted through a different lens, each time speaking differently to how Tiresias’s gender and sex cohere and flex.

Although Tiresias existed within only one body and consciousness, he possessed, at separate points, what are considered opposing binary sexual features. Despite his movement between binaries, Tiresias demonstrated an overarching understanding of what it is to live within the body of both male and female. When Jove and Saturn called upon Tiresias to tell them who—male or female—experienced more sexual pleasure, Tiresias responded that the female does, taking the side of Jove. Thus, Juno responded by taking away Tiresias’ physical sight, and Jove, disagreeing with this reaction, gave Tiresias the power to see the future (Ov. Met. 3.335-339). Thus one form of sight was taken away, and another was given, and Tiresias is redirected into both a mythological or oracular paradigm.

Similarly, in a story told by Diodorus Siculus[3], a figure name Callon[4] demonstrates a parallel depiction as a result of an unintentional and unpredictable change of defining sexual features[5]. Although this is a historical account—opposed to Tiresias’s literary mythology—the two are comparable in that both stories were passed down through oral history, then arrived on the page within the narrative bias ancient authors. They both highlight ideals and perceptions of gender, sex, and social construct within Ancient society through the author’s portrayal of events.

The story begins in Book 32 of The Bibliotheca Historica when a tumor appears on the genitals of Callo (their name before[6] the change of sex), described as a married woman from Epidaurus. This tumor causes excruciating pain, and no physician wanted to risk treating it. Then an apothecary stepped up to the task, facilitating the alteration (this translation is from Lacius Curtius):

He cut into the swollen area, whereupon a man’s privates were protruded, namely testicles and an imperforate penis. While all the others stood amazed at the extraordinary event, the apothecary took steps to remedy the remaining deficiencies. First of all, cutting into the glans he made a passage into the urethra, and inserting a silver catheter drew off the liquid residues. Then, by scarifying the perforated area, he brought the parts together.

τοῖς λειπομένοις μέρεσι τῆς πηρώσεως. τὸ μὲν οὖν πρῶτον τὸ αἰδοῖον ἄκρον ἐπιτεμὼν συνέτρησεν εἰς τὸν οὐρητῆρα, καὶ καθεὶς ἀργυροῦν καυλίσκον ταύτῃ τὰ περιττώματα τῶν ὑγρῶν ἐξεκόμιζε, τὸν δὲ σεσυριγγωμένον τόπον ἑλκώσας συνέφυσε.

Following this moment, Callon instantly must adjust and adopt a new social role in response to their newly-emerged male genitalia (Diodorus Siculus, 32.11):

After achieving a cure in this manner he demanded double fees, saying that he had  received a female invalid and made her into a healthy young man. Callo laid aside her loom-shuttles and all other instruments of woman’s work, and taking in their stead the garb and status of a man changed her name (by adding a single letter, N, at the end) to Callon.

καὶ τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον ὑγιοποιήσας διπλοῦν ἀπῄτει τὸν μισθόν· ἔφη γὰρ αὑτὸν παρειληφέναι γυναῖκα νοσοῦσαν, καθεστακέναι δὲ νεανίσκον ὑγιαίνοντα. ἡ δὲ Καλλὼ τὰς μὲν ἐκ τῶν ἱστῶν κερκίδας καὶ τὴν ἄλλην τῶν γυναικῶν ταλασιουργίαν ἀπέθετο, μεταλαβοῦσα δὲ ἀνδρὸς ἐσθῆτα καὶ τὴν ἄλλην διάθεσιν μετωνομάσθη Κάλλων, ἑνὸς στοιχείου ἐπὶ τῷ τέλει τοῦ Ν προστεθέντος.

This shift parallels the way that Tiresias’s physical sex-change redirects his social projection and performance, establishing mental and social expectations in direct response to genitalia. Female appearing genitalia are aligned with the actions of womanhood, and male actions are aligned with the performance of manhood, with little room for fluctuation of that binary principle. This is a principle that still governs much of today’s understandings of gender and sexuality.

Callon, before this physical and social shift, was a priestess of Demeter, and after this moment of alteration, “because she had witnessed things not to be seen by men she was brought to trial for impiety.” (Diodorus.Siculus 22.11)  Just as Tiresias has his sight taken away for possessing the knowledge and sight of what it is to live within both the body of male and female, Callon is brought to trial for impiety for having seen sacred rituals exclusive to females when they are no longer socially labelled as female, but still never truly was able to fulfill the proscribed role of an Ancient Greek male.

The physical descriptors of Callon’s body explain the effect and complications of Callon’s portrayal as portentous and prosecuted. Callon’s sight and experience are implicitly more than either male or female, even if they are only regarded as one or the other at any given time. They possess a double consciousness in result of the ambiguous genitalia and unstable body, rooted in the very fact that their body calls to question, multiple times, how tethered gendered performance is to sex.

This instability forces them to exist outside any normative variations of male and female projectiles within Ancient Greece, even the most extreme variations[7]. The manner of physical change—unprompted and unexplainable other than to attribute to divine agency— undoubtedly plays a large role in Callon’s mythic classification, in tandem with their inability to fit neatly within any gendered projectile, their fluctuating societal perception, and the Diodorus Siculus’s inability to find language that properly tethers Callon to a position in society.

Diodorus Siculus inducts the story as mythic separately from the actual telling of Callon. He situates the text directly after the sex-change of Herais (Diodorus.Siculus.XXXII.9), a change with similar anomalous conditions yet varying social implications.[8] Following these two stories, Diodorus Siculus injects his own lens for a reader to interpret the previous recordings (Diodorus, Siculus. 32.11):

Likewise in Naples and a good many other places sudden changes of this sort are said to have occurred. Not that the male and female natures have been united to form a truly bisexual type, for that is impossible, but that Nature, to mankind’s consternation and mystification, has through the bodily parts falsely given this impression. And this is the reason why we have considered these shifts of sex worthy of record, not for the entertainment, but for the improvement most our readers. For many men, thinking such things to be portents, fall into superstition, and not merely isolated individuals, but even nations and cities.

῾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.

Diodorus Siculus invokes a deep mythological history, particularly by referencing the trope of the δίμορφον τύπον,  the “bisexual type.” This strings the events he has recorded into a chain of mythological dual-sexed beings. Some of these instances include the mythological narratives such as Hermaphroditus, the child of Polycritus, and the sleeping herms.[9] He poses these sex-changes as not isolated instances, but as a part of a larger theme of sexual ambiguity and transitivity. Nature, Diodorus Siculus believes, is this cause of these abnormalities, and therefore they must be regarded as indicative of something larger than just the instance, thus transcending their own context and the details of their existence.

The language used to describe Callon’s physical features provides critical clues to how Callon lived into adulthood and had to uphold binary roles for a sex and gender which their genitalia most closely resembled. Those functioning outside the gender and sexual binary were present within mythological accounts frequently, yet in historical accounts babies born with “ambiguous genitalia” were frequently exposed.[10]  This made it even more remarkable and incidental that Callon survived to adulthood, qualifying that Callon’s genitalia would have not been regarded as hindering their ability to marry and function domestically. The complication arises, however, in that the primary function of marriage and the oikos, or household, in Ancient Greek society was the product of a lineage for the male side of the family.[11]

Ancient Greek society, similarly to our contemporary society, was organized primarily by a system of opposing binaries that extended toward governing the gender and sex system. There was The Good and The Bad, citizen and non-citizen, male and female, among many others, all of which repelled and aligned accordingly.[12] However, there was room for transgression of these seemingly rigid binaries under certain circumstances if there was a pre-established system for these deviations For instance, the mythological idea of the demigod transgressed the binary of mortal and immortal. Within the medical realm, there were liminalities of this kind as well. Illness was considered neither to fall under good or bad, but to form a sort of triangulation in relation to the two, essentially because they had the potential to be balanced or remedied.[13] These liminalities reverberate into the description of Callon’s body, and permeate particularly the manner in which Callon has to participate in sexual intercourse. Before the change of sex, Callon’s genitals were described as such     (Diodorus Siculus, 32.11):

Now the orifice with which women are provided had in her case no opening, but beside the so‑called pecten she had from birth a perforation through which she  excreted the liquid residues.

αὕτη τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀποδεδειγμένον ταῖς γυναιξὶ πόρον ἄτρητον εἶχεν, παρὰ δὲ τὸν καλούμενον κτένα συριγγωθέντος τόπου ἐκ γενετῆς τὰς περιττώσεις τῶν ὑγρῶν ἐξέκρινεν.

Due to this, Siculus finds it necessary to describe how they engaged in sexual intercourse (Diodorus Siculus. 32.11):

On reaching maturity she became the wife of a fellow citizen. For two years she lived with him, and since she was incapable of intercourse as a woman, was obliged to submit to unnatural embraces.

εἰς δὲ τὴν ἀκμὴν τῆς ἡλικίας παραγενομένη συνῳκίσθη τινὶ τῶν πολιτῶν. διετῆ μὲν οὖν χρόνον συνεβίωσε τἀνδρί, τὴν μὲν γυναικείαν ἐπιπλοκὴν οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένη, τὴν δὲ παρὰ φύσιν ὁμιλίαν ὑπομένειν ἀναγκαζομένη.

There were power dynamics linked to Ancient Greek sexual encounters, and projected upon those engaging in certain behaviors. Due to Callon’s inability to engage in vaginal intercourse as they were expected to, they would have been forced to engage in anal intercourse, a practice of sex considered to be dirty, shameful, and deficient.[14]  They were able only to engage in intercourse in the fashion typical to a passive homosexual male, one that was not conducive to reproduction.[15] Although, oddly enough, aside from this inability to perform as a sexually normative female, Callon was still able to marry a man and fulfill that social and domestic facet of female-tethered performance,[16] albeit their inability to reproduce due to the implications of their ambiguous genitalia.

Even after the change of sex, Callon would have existed outside the normative gender-associated sexual performance of a male. Callon additionally cannot be assimilated into any previously established systems of sexual deviance, for instance, Eunuchs, the Orphean system of pederasty, homosexual behavior among the elite.[17] This speaks to both the importance of sexual activity to gender performance and to how Callon would have been perceived. Here the instance deviates from Tiresias, who was described as being able to enjoy sex as a man and woman—Callon, can have sex neither as a traditional and expected man or woman but as a passive role of the system, limited to a certain number of deviations outside of reproductive purpose.[19]

The physical and biological differences that the Ancient Greeks drew between male and female bodies bled inevitably into how the constructs of man and women formed and were expected to function. In classic description, males/men are portrayed as the agents of their own body, and in Greek and Roman thought were the considered “qualitative essence of a person,” capable of logical thought and possessing a sort of bodily hardness and structure. [20]

Females/women, on the other hand, are portrayed as the antithesis of this. They lack control over their own bodies. In tales such as the paradigmatic image of Pandora, female bodies are seen as possessing a “lovely exterior” which serves as a “deceptive disguise to conceal a corrupt and destructive interior.”[21] Callon is expected to uphold both of these roles at different periods of time, strung between two repellent binaries. Callon, however, would have been rendered outside of the binary in that they were neither male or female, good or evil, but instead as a neutral alternative in a system of binaries.

Diodorus Siculus narrates that Callon was expected immediately to shift from upholding the standards of one binary to that of another, without any sort of previous conditioning or socializing, as contemporary theory would define it. Callon puts down their weaving equipment—a symbolic facet of woman’s work that exemplifies the idea of a woman being domestic, loyal, and occupied in a controlled and moderated setting.[22]

Thus, taking up the garb and title of a man is undoubtedly an immediate thrust from one end of the binary to the other, with no social opportunity for in between. Callon’s body is deemed as defining the conditions of what is around them, and albeit they never exactly have the physicality of either a male or a female, they are forced to assume to social roles and labels of both and neither, consecutively and concurrently.

Central to this experience is Callon’s trial for impiety, which punishes them for existing outside of the established binary by no fault of their own. Callon fits much better into a mythological system of δίμορφον τύπον (Diodorus Siculus. 32.12), hence their experience, downfall, and mystification, which developed parallel to that of Tiresias. They actually fit quite neatly into mythological tradition, and are denoted by Diodorus Siculus to have been thought to have served as a portent in the sense that their existence indicated more than itself, and served as a greater predictor of fate. Other instances of the δίμορφον τύπον that Callon can be strung with include the mythological figures Hermaphroditus and Iffus.[23] There was no way to attain a medical explanation for the instance of Callon, and the only dominant paradigms for ambiguous genitalia in adults existed within mythological-literary models.

Thus, even Diodorus Siculus, struggles to handle Callon’s narration within the text. Diodorus Siculus does not demonstrate the pronoun usage to deal with the sex-change that he is describing, consistently using the Ancient Greek female pronoun, to address Callon throughout the passage, both before and after the sex-change. This is unusual considering that within the passage Diodorus Siculus conveys the name change, garb change, and performance change of Callon in response to their body, affirming them in other ways. Yet Diodorus Siculus does not present them with masculine pronouns when depicting them at any point, remaining partial to the feminine, even when Callon was put on trial for being a male who had seen events exclusive to females. Foxhall notes that “gender was constantly performed but almost never critically articulated,”[24] in ways retrospectively providing a reason for Diodorus Siculus’s lack of ability to handle this case with both gendered nuance and accuracy, exacting the binds and customs of his own era and understanding of the instance.

Applying contemporary gender theory to the ancient world is both a dangerous and powerful tool. It is dangerous in that one must constantly be wary of overwriting instances of history with our own connotations, denotations, stigmas and associations. It is powerful because as time passes we continue to let new and fresh understandings of the world and human complications live within anachronistic functions of language and time.

But on either side, they are tools to speculate about the lives of those before us and our own deep lineages and histories, especially in a society that is so prone to erase those unlike them. Above all, this research calls highlights the role that ancient authors and their social contexts have in preserving some experiences and voices and not others.

 

Cassie Garison lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is a poet and a classicist. Cassie’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in River Styx, The Penny Dreadful, Nimrod International, Hobart, and others. Cassie’s classics related research and writing focuses on Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome.

 

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