Hermaphrodites In Ancient Rome

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Three distinct genders existed in Rome and proved to threaten the social norm. A prevalent dilemma Romans endured during antiquity, however, was the existence of the third gender, androgyny, which challenged several aspects of Rome. Furthermore, androgyny presented many issues in terms of appropriately creating a single phrase referring to the individual, as well as to how to define it. For the most part, because hermaphrodites presented such a significant problem, they were abhorred in society, and in many cases, executed at birth. More so, such executions were not limited to infants, but adults were at risk as well (Adroutsos). Ultimately, throughout all phases of Roman antiquity, the notion of a third sex, such as hermaphrodites, defied …show more content…
To begin, Corbeill states that one of the first “Latin term[s] describing such individuals, Hermaphroditus, came to be the commonest word employed during the first century AD. This newly popular coinage, a loan from Greek, derives from the name of the mythical creature Hermaphroditus” (Corbeill 149). However, hermaphrodites have also been referred to as “bisexual,” “androgyne,” “gender ambiguous,” or “dual sexuality” (Brisson & Corbeill). Even with such variation of terminology when referring to individuals, the group has been anatomically characterized in the same manner. Hermaphrodites are uniquely distinguished by their genitalia, most notably due to their possession of both male and female genitalia. Defining hermaphrodites proved to be difficult during Roman antiquity because they defied the gender binary. However, to the Romans it was unacceptable to struggle to explain what such an individual was and thus, the most important subject at hand regarding hermaphrodites was to “form a correct definition” (Corbeill 20). Ultimately, Romans may have struggled to appropriately develop a definition for hermaphrodites. The Oxford Dictionary defines hermaphroditism as: “a person or animal having both male and female sex organs or other sexual characteristics, either abnormally or (in the case of some organisms) as the natural condition” (Hermaphrodite). Ultimately, the beginning of hermaphroditism is rooted in the …show more content…
However, before the child’s birth, Polycritus died. Polycritus’s son was born androgynous, with both male and female genitalia. According to Corbeill, children born with abnormalities or deformities were “disposed of without hesitation” (Corbeill 160). Therefore, following the convention, the Republic deliberated on how to address Polycritus’s son, suggesting to “burn the child and mother together” (Corbeill 155). This coincides with Table IV of the Roman Twelve Tables which’s states: “a dreadfully deformed child shall be killed quickly” (Halsall). Before Polycritus’s son was killed by the state, Polycritus himself appeared in the form of a ghost and “devoured the infant save for its head, and returned to the underworld” (Corbeill 155). This tale shows how abhorred hermaphrodites were in the natural world and how the Romans were willing to go to the highest extreme, execution, to rid their society of hermaphrodites. Therefore, although androgynous deities could exist in mythology, Romans were not willing to coexist with them in the natural

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