Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Duality of Aphroditus

Youth or Aphroditus statuette from Boeotia,
Greece 4th century BCE photographed at the
British Museum.
While looking through my images of artifacts in the British Museum this morning, I came across this terracotta figurine from Boeotia dated to around 400 BCE.  It is identified as merely a youth crowned with a wreath holding a puppy while another dog stands beside him.  As I studied the image, though, I wondered about the identification of it as just a youth.  The broad hips and thighs are reflective of a female form although it is clearly male.  I wondered if it may be a type of Aphroditus statue.  The deity is thought to have arrived in Athens from Cyprus in the 4th century BCE although there have been some Aphroditus herms dated to the 5th century BCE.  Aphroditus was later renamed  Hermaphroditos to reflect its parentage from Aphrodite and Hermes. The deity makes an appearance in the work, On Moral Characters, penned by Theophrastus.  A native of the island of Lesbos, Theophrastus succeeded Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. His given name was Tyrtamus, but Aristotle nicknamed him Theophrastus because of his "divine style of expression." 

Theophrastus came to Athens at a young age and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death, he attached himself to Aristotle until Aristotle fled Athens then Theophrastus took over as head of the Lyceum and served in that role for 36 years. His wide-ranging interests ranged from biology, physics, philosophy, and ethics to metaphysics and he is often considered the father of botany. Perhaps he found the unique biology of Aphroditus, which does occur in nature, particularly interesting.

The British Museum points out Boeotians had their own artistic traditions and were especially prolific in the production of terracotta statuettes.  These were mostly made for dedication at shrines, another factor, along with the almost diadem-like wreath, pointing to the figurine being a divinity rather than a normal youth. Aphroditus is more commonly represented as a female lifting her skirt to reveal her male attributes.  But, as the museum points out, the Boeotians prided themselves on their difference from their hostile maritime neighbor.  

I also think the presence of the mother dog and puppy point to a reference to fertility associated with this deity.  Early 20th century scholars thought the combination of male and female in one divinity and its association with the moon, were both regarded as fertilizing powers, having an influence over the entire animal and vegetable creation process. But, these are just my own speculations. Perhaps I've studied too many treatises on Amarna art!

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