What can the Sleeping Hermaphroditus teach us about love?

Kevin Childs examines the myth of Hermaphroditus, what it says about humankind and how it has influenced art through the ages

Thursday 02 September 2021 21:30 BST
<p>The ‘Sleeping Hermaphroditus’ of the Louvre is seen differently from every angle </p>

The ‘Sleeping Hermaphroditus’ of the Louvre is seen differently from every angle

There’s an old legend about the origins of love. Long ago, so it goes, humans came in three types. All had four legs, four arms, two sets of genitalia and two faces. They were a little bit like beach balls and rolled about on their hands and feet. Some were made up of two males, some two females and a third type were androgynous, both male and female. But they became uppity as a species, overly confident in their physical unions, and the gods decided to punish them. So each one was split in half and left to walk about upright on two legs.

You know the story’s true because the navel is where each half was sewn up again and a knot was left.

Thereafter, the two halves constantly wandered about looking for their “twin”, their soul mate, their true love. Love was therefore born from that everlasting search for completeness. Those who’d been two males became gay men, those who’d been two females lesbians, and those who’d been both male and female, one can only assume became straight.

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