The aim of this paper is to examine the role of sexually ambiguous human individuals in the Mirabilia by Phlegon of Tralles. The text preserves two curious accounts of the birth of hermaphroditic infants. In antiquity hermaphrodites were usually regarded as maleficent portents which needed a propitiation of the gods; traces of this belief are to be found also in the Mirabilia, since both accounts represent these ‘creatures’ as evil omens. However, in Phlegon’s times hermaphrodites ceased to be considered dangerous and became objects of refined entertainment. I attempt to show that Phlegon, incorporating these particular stories of hermaphrodites into his compilation, plays with the former significance of this phenomenon. First of all, hermaphrodites perfectly fit Phlegon’s collection of marvels, which is focused exclusively on human oddities. But most importantly, he chooses two stories, one of which is strikingly drastic, highly incredible and exceptionally complex in terms of the odd and the bizarre, and the other is reduced to mere quotations from vague and gloomy Sybilline Oracles; in both of them the hermaphrodite is just a part of the sensation and triggers off a sequence of many other extraordinary elements. No longer seen as dangerous, these very special hermaphrodites are used for entertainment purposes providing amusement to the readers by means of shock, astonishment and sensation, along with other ‘freaks of nature’ in the Mirabilia.
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Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae
2020 Volume 60
Magyar Tudományos Akadémia
H-1051 Budapest, Hungary, Széchenyi István tér 9.
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