By R. Gilbert
From the 16th century to the eighteenth century, hermaphrodites have been mentioned and depicted in various inventive, mythological, medical and erotic contexts. Early smooth Hermaphrodites seems at a few of these representations to discover the tales they inform approximately ambiguous intercourse and gender in early glossy England. Gilbert examines the customarily contradictory ways that hermaphrodites have been represented as either religious beliefs and sexual grotesques; as freaks, erotic items and clinical curiosities' and as literary metaphors and symptoms of social decay.
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Additional info for Early Modern Hermaphrodites: Sex and Other Stories
Galen proposed that men and women were essentially the same by observing that there was an homology between male and female genitalia. He explained that the only substantial difference between the sexes was that men showed externally that which remained hidden within women: All the parts then, that men have, women have too, the difference between them lying in only one thing . . , namely, that in women the parts are within, whereas in men they are outside. . 12 In Making Sex (1990) Thomas Laqueur has demonstrated that the belief in an isomorphic equivalence between male and female genitalia was powerfully endorsed in Renaissance medical texts and anatomical illustrations.
As Sir Thomas Browne put it in Christian Morals (composed in the mid-seventeenth century and published posthumously in 1716): Since Men and Women have their proper Virtues and Vices [. ]; transplace not their Proprieties and confound not their Distinctions. Let Masculine and feminine accomplishments shine in their proper Orbs, and adorn their Respective subjects. 51 Browne’s insistence that the sexes must be kept distinct was subtended by a recognition and fear that they might also ‘hermaphroditically’ merge.
These are themes that will be developed throughout the book as a whole. Late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century representations of ambiguously gendered ﬁgures focused increasingly on questions of where the boundaries were to be drawn between the categories of male and female, masculine and feminine. 49 The underlying message of such texts was that early modern gender consisted of a set of rules and relationships that were open to distortion if not destruction. In themselves, the grammatical constructions of Hic Mulier (the masculine woman) and Haec Vir (the feminine man) signalled that order had been disturbed.
Early Modern Hermaphrodites: Sex and Other Stories by R. Gilbert