[Picture: Anasyromenos statuette, ancient Roman in origin. Artist unknown.]
Aphroditus was a deity whose worship originated in Cyprus - specifically the city of Amathus - and eventually spread to Athens. Often described as a ‘male’ Aphrodite or Venus, the deity is actually supposed to be a fusion of both male and female, in a capacity that produced new divine power.
Statues in the pose above - άνασυρόμενος (anasyromenos) - are copying a gesture said to have apotropaic qualities, which deflected misfortune and could bestow good luck.
Macrobius, a writer in 5th century Rome, spoke of Aphroditus’ worship in his book, the Saturnalia:
There’s also a statue of Venus on Cyprus, that’s bearded, shaped and dressed like a woman, with scepter and male genitals, and they conceive her as both male and female. Aristophanes calls her Aphroditus, and Laevius says: Worshiping, then, the nurturing god Venus, whether she is male or female, just as the Moon is a nurturing goddess. In his Atthis Philochorus, too, states that she is the Moon and that men sacrifice to her in women’s dress, women in men’s, because she is held to be both male and female.
The association of a fused divinity with the moon was considered to have powerful influence over fertilization, giving a blessing to crops and animals alike. In later years, the origin of Aphroditus was retooled, becoming the child of Hermes and Aphrodite who fused with a water nymph and as such developed the same abilities as the Cyprian predecessor.