Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 37: Florence, Part 17


 November 1st, 2023


Uffizi Gallery

2. "The Birth of Venus" (15th century) – Continued

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love and beauty, is also the protector of romance, infidelity, and prostitutes.

Even after her marriage to Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths, she had numerous affairs with both gods and mortals, giving birth to as many children as her partners.

   Aphrodite had a union with the god of wine, Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythology), and their offspring was Priapus.

Priapus, born from this union, is said to have been endowed with a grotesquely large phallus due to an intervention by Zeus's wife, Hera, during Aphrodite's pregnancy.

Priapus, possessing an enormous penis, was abandoned by his mother Aphrodite due to his unusual appearance.

 However, he was found by a shepherd and grew up to symbolize fertility, reproduction, and procreation.

He became a guardian deity of fields, orchards, and livestock, revered by farmers and shepherds.

By the way, the medical condition where the penis remains erect for an extended period without sexual arousal is known as "priapism," derived from the god of procreation, Priapus.

While some men might jest about being in a perpetually erect state, this condition is a severe one that involves intense pain and can lead to tissue necrosis (decay) of the penis a few hours later.

The primary cause is the coagulation of blood in the erectile tissue and veins within the penis, often associated with conditions like leukemia or spinal disorders.


Aphrodite also had a union with Hermes, the god of travel, commerce, wisdom, and messenger of the gods, resulting in the birth of their child Hermaphroditos.

Combining both parents' names, the child was called Hermaphroditos.

As he grew into a beautiful young man, he caught the attention of the nymph Salmacis while resting by a clear spring.

Salmacis, infatuated with Hermaphroditos, attempted to seduce him with a sudden kiss, but he rejected her advances.

Unwilling to give up, Salmacis clung to him as he swam in the spring and prayed to the gods that they would never be separated.

Her wish was granted, and they merged into a single being, possessing both male and female attributes.

So, the body was indistinguishable between the sexes.

   Individuals or animals possessing both male and female genitalia are referred to as "intersex" in English, but it's also called "hermaphrodite" based on Greek mythology.





















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