Monday, 7 January 2013

Herais / Diophantus the Macedonian


There was dwelling at Abae in Arabia a certain man named Diophantus, a Macedonian by descent. He married an Arabian woman of that region and begot a son, named for himself, and a daughter named Herais. Now the son he saw dead before his prime, but when the daughter was of an age to be married he gave her a dowry and bestowed her upon a man named Samiades. He, after living in wedlock with his wife for the space of a year, went off on a long journey. Herais, it is said, fell ill of a strange and altogether incredible infirmity.

A severe tumour appeared at the base of her abdomen, and as the region became more and more swollen and high fevers supervened, her physicians suspected that an ulceration had taken place at the mouth of the uterus. They applied such remedies as they thought would reduce the inflammation, but notwithstanding, on the seventh day, the surface of the tumour burst, and projecting from her groin there appeared a male genital organ with testicles attached. Now when the rupture occurred, with its sequel, neither her physician nor any other visitors were present, but only her mother and two maidservants.

Dumfounded at this extraordinary event, they tended Herais as best they could, and said nothing of what had occurred. She, on recovering from her illness, wore feminine attire and continued to conduct herself as a homebody and as one subject to a husband. It was assumed, however, by those who were privy to the strange secret that she was a hermaphrodite, and as to her past life with her husband, since natural intercourse did not fit their theory, she was thought to have consorted with him homosexually. Now while her condition was still undisclosed, Samiades returned and, as was fitting, sought the company of his wife. And when she, for very shame, could not bear to appear in his presence, he, they say, grew angry. As he continually pressed the point and claimed his wife, her father meanwhile denying his plea but feeling too embarrassed to disclose the reason, their disagreement soon grew into a quarrel. As a result, Samiades brought suit for his own wife against her father, for Fortune did in real life what she commonly does in plays and made the strange altercation lead to an accusation.

After the judges took their seats and all the arguments had been presented, the person in dispute appeared before the tribunal, and the jurors debated whether the husband should have jurisdiction over his wife or the father over his daughter. When, however, the court found that it was the wife's duty to attend upon her husband, she at last revealed the truth. Screwing up her courage, she unloosed the dress that disguised her, displayed her masculinity to them all, and burst out in bitter protest that anyone should require a man to cohabit with a man. All present were overcome with astonishment and exclaimed with surprise at this marvel (paradoxon).

Herais, now that her shame had been publicly disclosed, exchanged her woman's apparel for the garb of a young man.And the physicians, on being shown the evidence, concluded that her male organ had been concealed in an egg-shaped portion of the female organ, and that since a membrane had abnormally encased the organ, an aperture had formed through which excretions were discharged. In consequence they found it necessary to scarify the perforated area and induce cicatrization: having thus brought the male organ into decent shape, they gained credit for applying such treatment as the case allowed.

Herais, changing her name to Diophantus, was enrolled in the cavalry and after fighting in the king's forces accompanied him in his withdrawal to Abae. Thus it was that the oracle, which previously had not been understood, now became clear when the king was assassinated at Abae, the birthplace of the "two-formed one." As for Samiades, they say that he, still in thrall to his love and its old associations, but constrained by shame for his unnatural marriage, designated Diophantus in his will as heir to his property, and made his departure from life. Thus she who was born a woman took on a man's courage and renown, while the man proved to be less strong-minded than a woman.


A change of sex under similar conditions occurred thirty years later in the city of Epidaurus. There was an Epidaurian child, named Callo, orphaned of both her parents, who was supposed to be a girl. Now the orifice with which women are naturally provided had in her case no opening, but beside the so-called pecten [pubis] she had from birth a perforation through which she excreted the liquid residues. On reaching maturity she became the wife of a fellow-citizen.

For two years she lived with him, and since she was incapable of intercourse as a woman, she was obliged to submit to unnatural embraces. Later a tumour appeared on her genitals and because it gave rise to great pain a number of physicians were called in. None of the others would take the responsibility for treating her, but a certain apothecary, who offered to cure her, cut into the swollen area, whereupon a man's privates were protruded, namely testicles and an imperforate penis. While all the others stood amazed at the extraordinary event, the apothecary took steps to remedy the remaining deficiencies.

First of all, cutting into the glans, he made a passage into the urethra, and inserting a silver catheter drew off the liquid residues. Then, by scarifying the perforated area, he brought the parts together. After achieving a cure in this manner he demanded double fees, saying that he had received a female invalid and made her into a healthy young man.Callo laid aside her loom-shuttles and all other instruments of woman's work, and taking in their stead the garb and status of a man, changed her name (by adding a single letter, N, at the end) to Callon. It is stated by some that before changing to man's form she had been a priestess of Demeter, and that because she had witnessed things not to be seen by a man, she was brought for trial for impiety.


Source: Diodorus Siculus, XXXII 10.2, XXXII 11, XXXII 12, (Photius, Library, codex 244, 377B, 378B - 379A)

Further reading: Sexual Ambivalence
Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity
Luc Brisson (Author), Janet Lloyd (Translator)
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No Suture! Art, Music, Gender & Random Topic Snippet-logs, Since 2005 …

No Suture!                         Art, Music, Gender & Random Topic Snippet-logs, Since 2005 …