This statuette depicts the mythical figure of Hermaphroditus. The figure has characteristically female facial features and breasts but typically male genitalia. In classical mythology, Hermaphroditus was the child of Hermes and Aphrodite. The nymph Salmacis became infatuated with the handsome youth but Hermaphroditus resisted her advances. When Salmacis forcibly embraced Hermaphroditus she prayed that they never part. The gods granted her wish, and the two became a single being, both male and female. Hermaphroditus thus possessed both male and female sexual characteristics.
Hermaphroditus was a common subject in ancient Greek and Roman art. Hermaphrodites are normally depicted either nude, as in this statuette, or lifting garment to expose their male genitals. This statue was made in Rome between 70 and 100 AD. Very little of the original Roman sculpture remains. The head, arms and lower legs were added in the 18th century.
The term hermaphrodite was historically used to describe people with ambiguous genitalia or gender. Today the word hermaphrodite is generally considered misleading and problematic when used to describe people. Instead, the term intersex is used to describe someone whose body does not neatly conform to what doctors define as typical male or female bodies, or who possess both male and female sexual organs and/or a combination of male and female sexual characteristics. Some people with intersex conditions and experiences have reclaimed the term 'hermaphrodite' to signal how people with bodies that are not exclusively male or female have always existed and to proclaim their identity as an example of the natural diversity of the human species.