Sunday, November 22, 2015

Notes on the Androgyne.

The main literary story of the androgyne comes from Plato’s Symposium (C4 BC) in a discourse by Aristophanes. Beings existed in three shapes, each being was double, man-man (solar), woman-woman (terra), man-woman/woman-man (lunar). The original beings were split by Zeus to curb their insolence. As a result, in search of an original wholeness, three sexualities emerged: men who sought men, women who quested for women, and men who yearned for women and women who desired men.  The androgynous lunar beings became heterosexuals.  In this literary myth, androgyneity is connected to heterosexuality alone.


The word "androgyne" entered the English language just before the Elizabethan period in 1552. Language, gender-biased as it is, placed man (andro) before woman (gyno). An androgyne was a being with male-female sex organs, a symbol of unity.By 1587, the word had transformed into abuse: an androgyne was a man who cultivated womanly looks, so stood not as a sign for heterosexuality but as one for homosexuality. The androgyne was reversed in 1807 to gynander with woman placed before man. It entered English as a biological term, just before the Victorian period, and has become a literary term and psychological concept for discussing strong female writers of the C19.

If Emily Bronte did not know Plato, she knew that facts about love that Plato elucidated…The artistic creation of a “male” by a woman may well result in the creation of a being of whom the artist might say ‘”he’s more myself that I am.”’ This might be termed…”the androgynous sensibility”, and yet that is not quite exact; “gynandrous” might be better… (Davies, Stevie, Emily Bronte: Heretic, p.198, Women's Press).

The noun gynander has not extended much into contemporary imagery. The androgyne, on the other hand, has mutated. A simple internet image search shows how the image has mutated: as an image where gender is hard to distinguish…male or female?

The androgyne has also become confused with transgender images. Carmen Carrera and Laith Ashley are transgender models, not androgynes. The same is true for Andrej Pejic.



In his poem, “On One who Affected an Effeminate Manner” (Demeter, 1889), Tennyson composed an epigram on the androgyne:

While man and woman still are incomplete,
I prize that soul where man and woman meet,
Which types all Nature’s male and female plan,
But, friend, man-woman is not woman-man.

Taking androgyne in its abusive sense (see earlier note), he condemns the physical womanly man (an affectation) whilst praising the man with womanly mental traits. In a notebook, Tennyson states that men should be androgynous and women gynandrous, but men should not be gynandrous nor women androgynous. It is a puzzling, if not nonsensical statement. Seemingly, Tennyson is saying that a man should aspire to have a male-female soul/androgyne, but that soul should not be weighted towards the female—the gynander. And vice versa.  To see a weighting in the psychic androgyne is a misnomer: by definition, the psychic androgyne is an image of equality and equilibrium.

When the androgyne entered the English language and became a linguistic term, it did so with visual images in mind. A representive example would be Cartari’s view in Le imagini dei degli antichi (1556, p.38). Commenting from an alchemical viewing point, Fabricius notes the doubling of the androgyne—self meets Self—in Alchemy, The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art  (1976). The projectio merges self-awareness with a cosmic awareness of what self might be. Fabricius misses two key points, however, in his hermetical  interpretation. The snake on the ground/ouroboros suggests eternal return, fusion of ends with beginnings and what Jung termed “circumambulation”, a walking around until integration of ideas re-arrange and settle in a new order. Also, the alchemical hermaphrodites are reversals of one another. The front one is male-woman and the background one is woman-male. The androgyne and gynander are equally fused together and equally fused in their union. They mirror one another. These figures are termed Janus figures by Fabricius. Of course, they are not. Janus was male-male headed. These figures are images of Hermathena, Hermes-Athena, Eloquence and Wisdom co-joined. The androgyne is an Archetype of wise words, hermetical therapy.


Jung has this to say on the androgyne/hermaphrodite: The unrelated human being [“I”] lacks wholeness for [s]he can achieve wholeness only through the soul [which exists through love], and the soul cannot exist  without its other side, which is always found in a “You” (The Psychology of the Transference, p.82).

A few years ago, I was given a farewell gift. I knew it was a Mithila painting from India (and part of an academic Art Exhibition). In Mudhubari, “forest of honey, women painters created these images as transient forms for weddings. In modern times, they have transferred their art to paper and canvas. This is the cosmic androgyne created by the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. Fused by loved, the archetype offers transcendence.


As we misuse hermetical archetypes, such as the androgyne, we inevitably cheapen language and the life that forces through images. The result is cultural confusion or occult mish-mash

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