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….