Pornographic hermaphrodites

08-May-2016 19:53

In fact, the story surfaces in many places, and today I would like to draw attention to one of the strangest versions of the story I know.

It involves the Bible, by Honoré Gabriel de Riqueti, who is best known for his role in the French Revolution and normally goes by his ‚revolutionary‘ surname Mirabeau (actually, a noble title – I never understood what was so revolutionary about it).

conflates more or less all published accounts of the pregnant monk; the verses of Jean Molinet († 1507) here are quoted as if they were found in the monastery itself, and the alleged ‚registers‘ of the monastery contain information from the historiographical sources including Robert Gauguin and Jean de Roy (which Mirabeau in all likelihood only knew indirectly).

Locating the monastery in Issoire ultimately goes back to Gauguin; the claim that the monk ‚belonged‘ to the cardinal of Bourbon is a distorted version of Jean de Roy (who correctly noted that the Unlike and indeed contrary to these late-medieval authors, according to Mirabeau these ‚registers‘ deny that the monk became pregnant by himself and that s_he was ‚both active and passive‘.

Like other authors of the eighteenth century who did not believe in ‚hermaphrodites‘, Mirabeau associates hermaphroditism and tribadism (for a parallel case, see e.g.

my post on Pierre Carpentier: In the following passages, after some more remarks on the various learned traditions (including Ovid), Mirabeau in fact asserts that ‚today‘ there were no true hermaphrodites – but, as in all times, women desiring women.

Just like other authors time and again stressed that they (or reliable witnesses) had seen ‚true hermaphrodites‘ – even if the descriptions they gave were lifted from ancient sources – Mirabeau seems to ‚update‘ the medieval story as to give it more credibility. Nineteenth-century advertisment (for a very western beverage) based on a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Why then, does Mirabeau quote the hermaphrodite monk, if he seems not even convinced there there were truly double-sexed humans?

In any case it is remarkable that Mirabeau adds this information that effectively denies the possibility of ‚true‘ hermaphroditism.Nonetheless, I find this glimpse into the afterlife of a medieval account of an hermaphrodite monk very interesting; it shows, once more, how some of these stories (short as they may be) continued to be told and retold, translated, misunderstood, and adopted to rather different needs across the centuries. It is also significant that the possibility of sex change is only quoted to be dismissed (at least for modern times), and the focus instead is on female same-sex desire. Erotika biblion, avec annotations du Chevalier de Pierrugues […], intr. Mirabeau wrote it between 17 when imprisoned in the infamous Château de Vincennes (which seems to have this effect on its inmates; his fellow inmate was the Marquis de Sade, who was writing For Mirabeau, scandal was his second surname (well, his third – after Riquetti and Mirabeau). Source:; public domain. The book contains a mixture of philosophical and erotic libertinage, and is at least partly organised into chapters by various sexual practices.

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Mirabeau takes special delight in skimming the Bible for potentially offensive content (successfully so, it has to be said.) Another of Mirabeau’s pleasure seems to have been the invention of cleverly composed neologisms (e.g. The chapter begins with a discussion of the hermaphrodite Adam (a topic which has a very long learned tradition; see here for starters) and the famous story of Aristophanes as found in Plato’s This brings Mirabeau to a more general discussion of hermaphroditism, and here, the pregnant monk from Issoire is one of his prime examples (de Mirabeau 1921, 98; Quoi qu’il en soit de ces idées, on a vu encore de nos jours des phénomenes analogues qui portent à croire que la tradition de Moïse n’est pas une chimère.

The rest of the chapter is filled with stories of tribades of antiquity (Sappho and others), and various phantasies about ‚oriental‘ tribades; in fact, it is pure erotic Orientalism, and almost invariably, some male voyeur is part of the scene.