Ancient Worlds


It seems as though you couldn’t move through ancient Rome, Greece or Syria without girls spontaneously transforming into men on their wedding days or married women suddenly sprouting a penis and heading off to war.

These real-life events are reported by ancient writers such as geographer Diodorus of Sicily and encylopaedia-writer Pliny the Elder – who claims he witnessed a transition with his own eyes in Italy.

Reports of real life transformations may have inspired the Roman poet Ovid’s retelling of the Greek myth of Iphis – a joyful story of a girl’s transition into manhood, which is the most beautiful and celebratory of all of the stories in his Metamorphoses.

Kate O’Donnell nipped over to ancient times to give us her take on the tale.

Iphis’ mother leaves the temple, and Iphis follows by her side –
But walking with a longer stride than before; and with cheeks
Growing more tanned, and body more powerful; and the face itself
is more angular, and the tousled hair shorter in length,
And there is more strength now than a woman usually has.
In fact: you
Who until recently were a woman, you are now a boy! Bring gifts to the temple!
Celebrate with fearless confidence! They bring gifts to the temple,
And they add an inscription: with a little poem:
‘The boy Iphis brought these offerings which he had vowed as a woman.’
After that, the dawn lit up the world far and wide with its rays
When Venus and Juno and the marriage gods gathered at the wedding flames.
And the boy Iphis took possession of his Ianthe.

Ovid Metamorphoses 9.786 -797 (Translated by R. Langlands)

Over in ancient Syria we know, thanks to Lucian’s Dialogues of The Courtesans, that trans people were not only around, but they were having hot sex. Trans man Megillos dresses as a woman “Megilla” during the day, but later in the evening the wig comes off and Megillos reveals he is all man.

The story of Megillos as told by J.Challinor and Danni Thompson.

These are just two of many stories of gender transformation and transness that were told and retold throughout ancient times.

Kate O’Donnell is a transgender performer, activist and theatre maker. The founder of Trans Creative arts company who are determined that trans people should be “telling our own stories”. Kate initiated the arts festival Trans Vegas giving hundreds of trans performers a platform.


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