• Marian Rothstein


The androgyne is seen in this study as the locus of a set of ideas functioning in Renaissance France, informing and expressing aspects of its worldview. It will be useful to clarify from the start that the words androgyne and hermaphrodite have a long history during which they have as often as not been treated as synonyms and used interchangeably. The slightest consideration of their etymology reveals how reasonable this conflation is. For the purpose of this study however, flying in the face of more than two millennia of synonymy, I will impose a clear distinction between the signified of these two signifiers. The hermaphrodite is perhaps best known from the description in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (4.375–79) of the melded bodies of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (whose name, combining those of his parents, Hermes and Aphrodite, adumbrates his fate). His metamorphosis comes in response to Salmacis’s plea to the gods when Hermaphroditus fails to respond to her advances; the result of the metamorphosis, Ovid tells us, is a blended creature “who seemed neither, yet both” (4.379). This hermaphrodite models a state of combined bodies, imperfection, and ever-yet-unsatisfied desire. In the Renaissance, in both French and Italian, the word hermaphrodite also came to signify homosexual. So, for example, in Leone Ebreo’s Dialoghi d’amore, we learn that the term can refer to “those who love men and have no shame in being both active and passive.


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  1. 1.
    Leone Ebreo, Dialogues of Love, trans. Cosmos Damian Bachich and Rossella Pescatori (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), p.140. The editors note here that this usage is found in Boccaccio as well, citing De genealogia deorum (III:21).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kathleen P. Long, Hermaphrodites in Renaissance Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Pierre de Ronsard, Œuvres complètes, ed. Paul Laumonier, vol. 12 (Paris: Didier, 1946), p.40, ll.109–12. The translation here, as all translations unless otherwise indicated, are my own.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For an important, thoughtful presentation of the negative view see Raymond B. Waddington, “The Bisexual Portrait of Francis I: Fontainebleau, Castiglione, and the Tone of Courtly Mythology,” Playing with Gender, ed. Jean R Brink, Maryanne C. Horowitz, Allison P. Coudert (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), pp.99–132. Barbara Hochstedler Meyer supports seeing a more positive message in of the portrait in “Marguerite de Navarre and the Androgynous Portrait of François Ier,” Renaissance Quarterly (Summer, 1995): 287–325. Further discussion is in Long, Hermaphrodites, 198–200Google Scholar
  5. Gary Ferguson, Queer (Re) Readings in the French Renaissance (Aldershot UK: Ashgate, 2008), p. 262Google Scholar
  6. Daniel Russell, “Emblematic Discourse in Renaissance Royal Entries,” in French Ceremonial Entries in the Sixteenth Century: Event, Image, Text, ed. Nicolas Russell and Hélène Visentin (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2007), pp.55–72. Russell complicates the question by suggesting, following Françoise Bardon, that the image may be posthumous and have its origins in a royal entry of Henri II.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Amour was feminine when used in a nonsexual sense. For a list of other such gender-changing words, see Georges Gougenheim, Grammaire de la langue française du seizième siècle (Lyon: IAC, 1951), pp. 41–46.Google Scholar

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© Marian Rothstein 2015

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  • Marian Rothstein

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