Greek MythologyMythology

LGBTQIA+ Themes in Mythology: Aphroditus

Almost always depicted as female (though I can’t emphasize enough just how nebulous Greek mythology was in regards to…almost everything), Aphrodite also has an aspect, Aphroditus, that is seen as neither male nor female but both at once.

The only reference that I’m aware of shows up in Macrobius’ Saturnalia. It’s a strange work, dating to about 300 A.D./C.E and consists of a series of conversations on Saturnalia, thus the name. It has several sections devoted to different topics, ranging from gods to calendars. In 3.8, it gives a description of a statue to a deity known as ‘Aphroditus,’ who has both male and female characteristics.

As far as I know, there aren’t any myths about them, the closest one being Ovid’s tale of Hermaphroditus (Sometimes called Aphroditus, but I believe these are different entities), the son of Hermes and Aphrodite who was merged with a nymph, but it seems they did receive worship.

Text and Translation – Description of Aphroditus

Signum etiam eius est Cypri barbatum corpore, sed veste muliebri, cum sceptro ac natura virili: et putant eandem marem ac feminam esse. Aristophanes eam Ἀφρόδιτον appellat. Laevinus etiam sic ait: Venerem igitur almum adorans, sive femina sive mas est, ita uti alma Noctiluca est. Philochorus quoque in Atthide eandem adfirmat esse lunam, et ei sacrificium facere viros cum veste muliebri, mulieres cum virili, quod eadem et mas aestimatur et femina.

There is also a statue in Cyprus with a bearded body but the clothes of a woman with a scepter* and the genitals of a man: and they consider the being to be male and female. Aristophanes calls them ‘Aphroditus’. Laevinus thus also says: worshipping adoring Venus, whether female or male, just the being is Noctiluca the soul. Philochorus in Attica confirms the being to be the moon and when making sacrifices men wear women’s clothes and women wear mens, because the being is held to be male and female.

*The Latin word used here, ‘sceptro’ can also be a slang term for ‘penis’ but I’m not familiar enough with the writer’s style to say for sure. Though ‘natura’ can also mean the same thing and seems the most likely given the context.

I admit that there are specific references here that I do not understand. Still, the basic meaning seems clear: This is a being, linked to Aphrodite, is a nurturing force that has both male and female characteristics and is considered by worshipers to be both male and female.

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