Literary Manifestations of the Androgyne

  • Marian Rothstein


The frequency, variety, and complexity of the literary manifestations of the androgyne are markers of the degree to which it was absorbed into early-modern French thought and culture. That it was shaped by a variety of forces—Christian and pagan, biblical, philosophical, and poetic—made it all the more attractive. Its literary appearances can be broadly classified into three modes: physical, spiritual, and marital. The physical androgyne focuses on the joining of two bodies, temporarily approximating the repaired condition of the creature in Plato’s myth, most often understood in physical terms as a coital androgyne.1


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  1. 1.
    The expression physical androgyne here refers to imagining two bodies temporarily joined. It excludes cases in which one body permanently possesses two sexes—those are hermaphrodites—so poems like Jean Dorat’s “Androgyn,” describing just such a hermaphrodite, fall outside the purview of this study. For more on that work, see Dudley Wilson and Ann Moss, “Portents, Prophesy and Poetry in Dorat’s Androgyn poem of 1570,” in Neo-Latin and the Vernacular in Renaissance France, ed. Grahame Castor and Terence Cave (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), pp. 156–73. Dorat made another use of the Androgyne in a short Latin poem praising Henri II’s edit du semestre, a short-lived attempt, in 1554, to double the number of members of the Parlement de Paris by requiring each member to sit full time for six months in the hopes of making them more compliant to his wishes. The first twenty-one lines are a summary of Aristophanes tale. In the second half of the poem (ll.22–41) Henri II becomes Jupiter, splitting the body in two; in fact he combines the roles Plato accords Zeus and Apollo. Etienne de La Boétie wrote a opposing response, also with glancing refences to Plato’s Androgyne: the king’s changes makes the cure worse than the disease, leaving twice as many magistrates, well rested, ready to oppose him. Both poems seem to count on readers’ familiarity with Plato’s Androgyne to advance their political position. See Michel Magnien, “Un échange entre Dorat et La Boetie” in Jean Dorat: Poète humaniste de la Renaissance, ed. Christine de Buzon and Jean-Eudes Girot (Geneva: Droz, 2007), pp.369–92.Google Scholar
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    The expression autre moitié does occur at least once to my knowledge, many years earlier, presumably as a sign of recognition of the marital androgyne in an anonymous 1509 “Éloge de Louis XII”: “Et a soulager et adoulcir le desir que avions de vous absent, avez laissé la tres chrestienne Royne, vostre compaigne, comme ung autre tel que vous et ung autre soustenement du Royaume, de telle majesté et si auguste courage que ne sentyions vostre absence, si non que la moitié de vous estoit en elle demeurée, pareillement la moitié d’elle en vous” [To comfort and moderate the desire we have for you in your absence, you have left the most Christian Queen, your companion, as another like you and another support of the realm of such majesty and august character that we do not feel your absence, given the half of you that remains in her, and equally the half of her in you] (René de Maulde, “Éloge de Louis XII,” Revue historique 43 [1890]: 58 [italics mine]. See also Georges Gougenheim, “La Déchéance d’un terme platonicien,” in Mélanges Gamillscheg (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1957), pp.44–50.Google Scholar
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  30. Isidore Silver, Ronsard’s Philosophic Thought (Geneva: Droz, 1992) provides a starting list of Ronsard’s references to the sensual androygyne (cited by volume and page numbers of Laumonier edition of Ronsard’s Oeuvres complètes): 4:110, 155; 10:119–21; 15:214–15; 17: 190, 213, 229, 230. This includes indirect references such as those to a moitié that offer very little to enrich the present discussion. In none are the possibilities inherent in the androgyne exploited with any complexity.Google Scholar
  31. 75.
    Pierre de Ronsard, “Hylas,” in Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Paul Laumonier, Isidore Silver, and Raymond Lebègue, vol. 15 (Paris: Didier, 1957, pp.242–43. The poem was dedicated to Jean Passerat, soon after named Professeur d’éloquence at the Collège de France.Google Scholar
  32. 76.
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© Marian Rothstein 2015

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