Sensing Hermaphroditus in the Dionysian Theatre Garden

Brittany DeMone and Lisa A. Hughes (University of Calgary)


This essay highlights new perspectives on the deity Hermaphroditus’ role in select Pompeian garden settings. In particular, it suggests that Hermaphroditus needs to be seen as a convivial participant in Dionysian ritualistic and theatrical performances. Situating the deity in Dionysus’ cultic retinue (e.g. alongside maenads, satyrs/pan, and Silenus) opens the way for a multivalent, lived, sensory approach to these intersexed representations. Hermaphroditus’ role as a convivial participant is especially evident within the contexts of Pompeian dining and the theatrical performances (pantomime) that took place in or near garden settings known as the ‘Dionysian Theatre Garden’. These theatre gardens contained architectural features, visual imagery, and botanical remains that were well-suited to the Dionysian style performances which often featured as part of the Roman dining experience. Ovid’s narrative of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis in Metamorphoses (4.274–388), possibly staged for theatrical performances in these houses, provides a useful case study to demonstrate a performative fusion of role-playing and theatrical narratives, which relied heavily upon visual, audial, and olfactory responses.

Keywords: Pompeii, Dionysus, Hermaphroditus, garden, pantomime, theatre

Full text: OAJ_ISSUE_10_4_Brittany DeMone and Lisa A. Hughes_final (PDF 1.78MB).


Biographical notes 

Brittany DeMone is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary. DeMone is currently finishing her PhD dissertation on Roman Hermaphroditus: Visual Representations, Role-Playing, and Garden Spaces in Campania.  Other research interests include gender and sexuality, queer and feminist theories, visual representations of myth, and Roman theatrical performances in garden spaces.

Lisa A. Hughes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary. Hughes’ current project, ‘The art of performance along the Bay of Naples (44 BCE–79 CE)’, explores the role of small-scale theatrical performances in the gardens of ancient Roman houses.