George Sandys, Ovid’s Metamorphosis (1632)


Illustration to book four of the Metamorphoses from Sandy’s 1632 edition. Source: Licence: PD.

Ovid’s account of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis in his Metamorphoses remained the most important account for learned discourse on hermaphrodites well into modern times. Given that there is an abundance of Ovid commentaries from almost every century and for very different readerships, a comparative study of these commentaries would be a worthwhile entreprise and a welcome contribution to an intellectual history of ‘hermaphroditism’; Aurnhammer 1986 is still the best account, for a shorter English survey, see Silberman 1988. The comment reproduced below comes from an illustrated verse translation from the early 17th century, characteristically taking up some ‘ancient’ authorities which are, at a closer look, not always are that ancient.

EditionOvid Illustrated: The Renaissance Reception of Ovid in Image and Text George Sandys, Ovid’s Metamorphosis (1632) An Online Edition by Daniel Kinney, (The footnotes are my additions.)

Literature: Achim Aurnhammer, Androgynie. Studien zu einem Motiv in der europäischen Literatur (Literatur und Leben N.F. 30), Cologne 1986; Lauren Silberman, Mythographic Transformations of Ovid’s Hermaphrodite, in: The Sixteenth Century Journal 19 (1988), 643–652. []

Plato recites a fable, how man at the first was created double, and for his arrogancy dissected into male and female: the reason of their affected coniunction, as coueting to returne to their originall: an obscure notion (as we haue formerly written) of Eua’s being taken out of the side of Adam.1 So Hermaphroditus and Salmacis retaine in one person both sexes: of whom the like are called Hermaphrodites. Aristotle writes that they haue the right brest of a man;2 and the left of a woman, wherewith they nourish their children. They were to choose what sex they would vse, and punished with death if they changed at any time. One not long since burned for the same at Burges: who elected the female, and secretly exercised the male; vnder the disguize committing many villanies.3 Caliphanes reports, how among the Nasamones there were a whole nation of these; who vsed both with like liberty.4 There are many at this day in Aegypt, but most frequent in Florida; who are so hated by the rest of the Indians, that they vse them as beasts to carry their burthens; to suck their wounds, and attend on the diseased. But at Rome they threw them as soone as borne into the riuer; the Virgins singing in procession, and offering sacrifice vnto Iuno.5 It is here fained that Hermaphroditus by his prayers to his parents procured this quality to that fountaine, that what man soeuer bathed therein should come forth halfe woman. Whereof thus Strabo: In Caria is the fountaine of Salmacis, I knowe not how infamous, for making the drinker effeminate: since luxury neither proceeds from the quality of the ayre nor water, but rather from riches and intemperance.6 The Carians therefore addicted to sloath and filthy delights were called Hermaphrodites; not in that of both sexes, but for defiling themselues with either.


1 For Plato (or rather Alcibiades) in the Symposium 189d-193d see here; for the topos of Adam as an androgynous, see here (German with primary source texts in English translation).

2 In Aristotle‘s extant works, there is no such reference; but see Pliny nat. VII, ii, 16 as commented upon here.

3 A quotation from Antonio de Torquemada‘s Jardin (1570) for an English translation, see here.

4 Pliny (Natural history VII, ii, 16) quotes a certain Caliphanes for this claim; no other ancient geographer or ethnographer reports this (and it is not clear who the Caliphanes was Pliny seems to quote). See here for comment.

5 This is taken, directly or indirectly, from Livy, 27.11.

6 Strabo, Geographica 14.2.16.


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Christof Rolker (2015, 18. Dezember). George Sandys, Ovid’s Metamorphosis (1632). Männlich-weiblich-zwischen. Abgerufen am 23. Mai 2024, von

Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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