A Hermaphrodite is an unusual word for an unusual condition that happens to a small number of person or animal, who have the reproductive organs of both men and women. In Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus is the god of Hermaphrodites and is one of the winged love-gods known as Erotes. He is depicted as a winged youth with both male and female features, usually female thighs, breasts and style of hair, with male genitalia.
According to the legend, Hermaphroditus was a son of Hermes and Aphrodite, but was raised by the nymphs on Mount Ida. He was extremely handsome and knew that he could conquer the world with just his looks. At the age of fifteen, while exploring the world, he found the nymph Salmacis, near a pool in Caria. Salmacis was immediately overtaken with lust for the boy and tried to seduce him, but he rejected her advances immediately. As Salmacis left the place, Hermaphroditus undressed and entered the pool to take a dip. However, Salmacis was very much there and was hiding behind a tree with the hope to get an opportunity to fulfill her burning desire. As she saw the boy in the pool, she came out in open and jumped into the pool. She wrapped her body tightly around the boy while kissing him intently. As Hermaphroditus struggled to get away from her embrace, Salmacis called out to the gods and prayed to make them inseparable. The gods granted her prayer and their bodies were blended together, becoming one being of both sexes, with female breasts, legs, and facial features combined with the genitalia of a man.
The Sleeping Hermaphroditus, one of the most admired masterpieces of the Borghese Collection in the 17th and 18th centuries, is an ancient Roman marble sculpture, unearthed in the grounds of Santa Maria della Vittoria, near the Baths of Diocletian in 1608. The sculpture was presented to the connoisseur, Cardinal Scipione Borghese and it was housed in his new Villa Borghese where a room called the Room of the Hermaphrodite was devoted to it. In 1819, the Baroque Italian sculptor Bernini was commissioned by the Cardinal to carve the mattress on which the ancient marble now lies and in the same year, David Larique worked on the restoration of the figure. Later the sculpture was shifted to the Louvre, when Napoleon I purchased it in 1807, along with many other pieces of the Borghese Collection from his brother-in-law, Prince Camillo Borghese, who married his sister Pauline Bonaparte.
In the sculpture called the Sleeping Hermaphroditus, the body of Hermaphroditus is depicted as merged with the voluptuous curves of the Nymph Salmasis. Stretched out leisurely on the mattress sculptured by Bernini, the twisting pose of the body and the tension apparent down to the slightly raised left foot, are probably indicative of a state of dream.It is considered that the transformed form is partly derived from the ancient portrayals of Venus and other female nudes and partly from the contemporary effeminate portrayals of the Greek god Dionysus or Roman Bacchus.
The sculpture was created with the intention to be viewed in two stages. At first it creates the impression of a graceful and luscious female body and the effect is heightened by the sensuousness of the posture. However, while viewing it from the other side, it presents a shocking surprise, revealing the male genitals in the figure. This ultimate merger of the two sexes in the same body is sometimes interpreted as a half-playful, half-erotic creation, designed to illustrate Platonic and more general philosophical reflections on love, which has similarity with the ‘Ardhanariwara’, a composite androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati in the Hindu mythology.
Apart from the Sleeping Hermaphroditus in Louvre, a second-century copy of the same was discovered in 1781, which has taken the place of the original at the Galleria Borghese, while a third copy found in 1880, is now on display at the National Museum of Rome.