The Sources of the Androgyne

  • Marian Rothstein


The most familiar source of the word androgyne is the myth Plato recounts in the voice of the comic poet Aristophanes in the Symposium.1 If Plato was among the first to use the word, the early modern period did not necessarily consider him to be the first to deal with what it signified; the concept was commonly believed to have even earlier sources in the book of Genesis, thereby giving the androgyne roots in both Judeo-Christian and Greek culture. Rather than thinking of these as two parallel streams, the works of Plato were often understood to owe their wisdom to Plato’s access to the Pentateuch. Eusebius (263–339 CE) argues strongly that that echoes of biblical themes in various parts of Plato’s work were not a case of the independent, accidental production of similar ideas, but instead were evidence that Greek thinkers, most especially Plato, had had access to the Hebrew Bible so that where their work resembled ideas expressed in scripture, it was because Greek philosophers had access to divinely inspired truth, albeit sometimes second hand and always without the insight of the grace that comes with faith.2 The connection was explained by assertions that Plato, on a trip to Egypt, gained access to Moses’s writings.3 Moses was understood to be the direct, personal author of the Pentateuch, making a further parallel between two great men.


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  1. 2.
    Georg Wissowa and August F. Pauly, Realencyclpädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, vol 20.2(Stuttgart: Druckenmüller, 1931), columns 1984–1991. Justin Martyr (100–165 CE) notes that when Plato, in Republic 10, ascribes responsibility to man because he has free will, Plato borrowed this idea from Moses (see Justin, La philosophie passe au Christ, l’œuvre de Justin, ed. and trans. Adalbert Hamman [Paris: Éditions de Paris, 1958], p.71). (The passage in question occurs in Justin’s Apologies, ch.44).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    The perceived connections between Moses and Pythagoras and Ambrose’s implication that Pythagoras was a Jew are explored in Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe: Finding Heaven (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    A rapid summary of the androgyne in the (mostly Italian) Renaissance is to be found in Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (London: Penguin/Peregrine, 1967), p. 212–15.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Philo of Alexandria, also known as Philo Judaeus, sits at the margins of the Christian tradition. He possibly influenced Paul directly, was a strong influence on Origen, and was respected and used by Clement of Alexandria, by Eusebius, and (perhaps less directly) by many others. His work survived, where many other Jewish texts of the period did not, because of his influence on Clement and Origen. He was subsumed into the category of Fathers of the church, so considered by Jerome; medieval manuscripts refer to him as Bishop Philo. Pamphilus, Eusebius’s teacher, copied Philo’s work for the library in Cesarea. See François Daumas, “La Solitude des Terapeutes,” Philon d’Alexandrie: Actes du Colloque, ed. Roger Arnaldez, Jean Pouilloux, et al. (Paris: CNRS, 1967), pp. 347–58.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    Nicolas read Hebrew and was familiar with the rabbinical tradition that recognized an androgyne in this passage. From a radically different perspective, the physician Jean Liébault, in his Trésor des remedes secrets pour les maladies des femmes (Paris: Jacques Du Puys, 1585), also refers to the androgyne Adam. See Guy Poirier, L’Homosexualité dans l’imaginaire de la Renaissance (Paris: Champion, 1996), p. 66.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    Peter C. Bouteneff, Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), pp. 11–13. See his Appendix there, which compares the first chapter of Genesis in the Greek of the LXX, its English translation, and the NRSV (pp.185–97).Google Scholar
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    Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 6.Google Scholar
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    Louis Le Roy, trans., Le Sympose de Platon ou de l’amour et de beaute, Traduit de Grec en Francois avec trois livres de commentaires extraictz de toute Philosophie (Paris: Sertenas, 1559).Google Scholar
  9. 88.
    See Marian Rothstein, “Memory and Forgetting in Louis Le Roy’s Presentation of the Androgyne,” in Memory and Community in Sixteenth-Century French Literature, ed. David Laguardia and Cathy Yandell 173–86 (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2015).Google Scholar
  10. 95.
    Leone Ebreo, Dialogues of Love. Ed. Rossella Pescatori. Trans. Cosmos Damian Bacich. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, p. 288.Google Scholar
  11. 96.
    Mathurin Heret, Le Banquet de Platon traictant d’amour et de beauté, avec argumens sur chacune oraison, sommairement deduits (Paris: Guillaume Guillard, 1556). Privilège: July, 6 1555. Heret was a physician and Hellenist, having earlier published a translation of Dares (1553) and of the Problems of Alexander of Aphrodisias (1555). He was also responsible for sections of André Thevet’s Singularitez de la France Antartique (1557).Google Scholar
  12. Frank Lestringant, André Thevet: Cosmosgraphe des derniers Valois (Geneva: Droz, 1991), pp.100–104. My attention was first drawn to the existence of this translation by a reference to it in Marc Schachter’s review for H-France of Gary Ferguson’s Queer (Re)Readings, accessed 28 April 2014, 1 1 0schachter.pdf.Google Scholar
  13. 103.
    James Nelson Novoa. “Leone Ebreo’s Dialoghi d’amore as a Pivotal Document of Jewish-Christian Relations in Renaissance Rome,” in Hebraic Aspects of the Renaissance, ed. Ilana Zinguer, Abraham Melamed, and Zur Shalev (Leiden: Brill, 2011) p. 72.Google Scholar

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© Marian Rothstein 2015

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  • Marian Rothstein

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