The Zurich hermaphrodite (English translation)
The Zurich hermaphrodite
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, and other unusual births attracted much attention, and were depicted and discussed in various media, including medical tracts, popular songs and broadsheets. One of the earliest examples of the latter (perhaps the earliest) is that depicting the so-called Zurich Hermaphrodite.
Edition (with comment): Die Sammlung der Zentralbibliothek Zürich. Kommentierte Ausgabe. T. 1 Die Wickiania I (1500–1569), ed. Wolfgang Harms and Michael Schilling (Tübingen, 2005), at 12–13. For a transcription, see here, for a detailed comment (in German), see here.
Translation: Christof Rolker.
Literature: Alan W. Bates, Emblematic monsters: unnatural conceptions and deformed births in early modern Europe (Amsterdam and New York, 2005).
Young and old, all wonder, and rightly so,
about this child and strange figure
born in the flesh in the year
one-thousand fifehundred and nineteen,
on the first of January
when everyone is merry
to welcome the New Year in jolly mood
then this child was born.
This occurred in Zurich
honest people have wittnessed it
talking about it, without anger,
that because of feebleness it was born
with members, fine and whole,1
but below it has a man’s rod,
a woman’s private parts, as well
as a piece of red flesh.
While this figure is born
only this New Year
it already has a name; in Greek:
Andrognyes, and also in Latin,
called a Hermaphrodite.
Ovid (Metamorphoses, book four2) writes
that the child of Venus and Mercury
was raised by the gods of water.3
From this one might understand
that there is gross debauchery among us,
including drinking, over-eating, whoring
with young girls and married women,
pimping, showing off the arse, and the like
This is talked about (?) everywhere these days
We have become a strange order
four capital sins rule,
as debauchery and gluttony
and great haughtiness
these are not punished as capital sins anymore
by no-one, knight, vassel or lord.
Our fathers never had done so;
rather, they held piety and honour in high esteem.
These days, however, no-one seek manliness,
But only glotttony and dishonesty.
To seek after an honest man’s wife and daughter – such are the ‘manly’ deeds in our days.
This indeed clearly shows this figure:
the female privy parts are above the rod.
This is because the great debauchery
has oppressed all manliness
and won a complete victory over it.
The like one finds in Macrobius (Saturnalia, book three):4
Hannibal was thus seduces and
with him, all his people destroyed and overcome
in Campania (Valerius Maximus, book nine5);
all this Valerius reports of him.
Female debauchery was the cause of all this.
Holofernes is yet another example;6
he lost the war because of debauchery.
The same may well be saif about ourselves,
that our manliness these days is directed
towards splorging, gluttony and debauchery.
By this, we have become half like women,
who have their lewd ways in confusion,7
as Pliny (book seven8) writes about them;
they are called androgyne.
I fear, nothing good will spring from this
God has shown nature that debauchery is
an abomination to him (Augustine, On Christian doctrine9),
as Sodom and Gomorrah, the two cities,
were burnt by fire from heaven,
because of their gross uncleansiness.
Therefore, God will not pardon us –
this is, what this figure means,
just as once, in the times of the Romans,
it occurred that a baby, six month old,
foretold the destruction of the Roman Empire,
as Livy relates us (Livy, book 21, Bellum Punicum, first book10).
As no misdeed remains unpunished,
I have to report one more thing:
people saw in heaven,
this New Year’s day
something (?) you should not ignore.
For Lucius Junius, it was his doom (Val., book 1)11
to have ignored miraclous signs;
sonn after, all his good perished,
and he himself was drown.
Thus, if you want to prevent harm and grief
flee the sin of debauchery!
Insist on virtue and manliness –
this will bring good luck and salvation
both in this world and in eternity;
this God may grant us all,
Amen. Printed in Zurich.
2 Ovid, Metamorphoses iv, 285–388 (Loeb Classical Library 42, 198–205).
3 I.e. the Naiad nymphs (see Ovid).
4 Reference not identified. Macrobius, Saturnalia iii does not mention Hannibal, and Saturnalia ii, 3 (Loeb Classical Library 510, 328) on Hannibal does not fit the above reference.
5 Reference not identified. Valerius Maximus in his Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX. (ed. K. Kempf, Berlin 1854) depicts Hannibal in an extremely negative way (stressing his cruelty and arrogance), but does not specifically link his fall to being seduced by a woman.
6 Holofernes, seduced and beheaded by Judith according to the Book of Judith, was a common theme in medieval and early modern literature and art (e.g. Chaucer, Dante, Lucas Cranach, Caravaggio).
7 ‘Confusion’ (Latin confusio) in medieval usage referred to the confusion of the sexes (i.e. intersexuality), but could also imply sexual sins. In the King James Version, the Biblical scelus (for incest and bestiality) is rendered ‘confusion’, e.g. in Lev. 18, 23 [KJV]: ‘neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion’.
8 See Pliny, Naturalis historia VII, iii, 35–iv, 37 (Loeb Classical Library 352, 528–531).
9 Augustine, De doctrina christiana (CSEL 80) famously deals with signs, including God’s revelation in nature. De doctrina iii, 36 briefly mentions the destruction of Sodom.
10 Livy, Ab urbe condita libri xxi, 62, 2 (Loeb Classical Library 233, 184). Book xxi is the first book of the so-called Third Decade, i.e. the books on the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC).
11 Reference not identified.
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