Hephaestus, the club-footed blacksmith god was thrown down from Olympus after his mother, Hera, rejected him because he was deformed. Needless to say Hephaestus’ skill with forging weapons was so great, the Olympian gods needed him long before he needed them. To soften his heart Zeus, gave Hephaestus Aphrodite as his bride.
The beautiful goddess of love was not pleased and never lost an opportunity for taking her revenge by having affairs; often with other gods. The result of one such tryst with fellow god Hermes was her son Hermaphroditus.
As you would expect of any child whose mother was the goddess of love, Hermaphroditus was a bit of a stunner, but being brought up in secret, away from people and hidden from the gods for fear of reprisal, he was also naive.
Our story begins when Hermaphroditus, hot and tired from the day’s hunting chanced on a pool, deep within a shady glade, and thought to quench his thirst.
As he drank, the water nymph Salmacis spied the youth and overcome by his beauty tried to seduce him. Appalled by her wantonness, Hermaphroditus blushed and chided her to leave him alone. Somewhat taken aback Salmacis retreated. But she did not go far.
Thinking she was gone, Hermaphroditus stripped off and dived into the limpid waters. Aroused by the sight of his naked body Salmacis followed. Unable to control her passions she grabbed him. Clinging to him, entwined around his limbs she refused to let go; no matter how he struggled. Hermaphroditus tried to fight her off with increasing violence. In exasperation, she pleaded to the gods they might never part but remain together forever.
As the old saying goes – be careful what you wish for.
Capricious as always, Zeus took great delight on punishing Aphrodite’s child for his mother’s indiscretion. With a wave of his hand he caused Salmacis to merge with the boy, until they were one flesh. A deformed creature of two sexes crawled from the lake. Disgusted by the affront to nature he had become, the part that was Hermaphroditus prayed to his mother. With bitter tears he begged whoever drank from, or bathed in, the pool should be similarly cursed.
According to Ovid all this took place in the hills outside Halicarnassus, which is modern Bodrum in Turkey.
So beware you weary holiday makers on summer hikes in the hot thirsty pine-clad hills of the Bodrum peninsula…
You are warned!