Isis and Telethusa by Picart

In Greek and Roman mythology, Iphis or Iphys (/ˈfɪs/ EYE-fis, /ˈɪfɪs/ IF-iss; Ancient Greek: Ἶφις Îphis [íi.pʰis], gen. Ἴφιδος Ī́phidos) was a child of Telethusa and Ligdus in Crete, born female and raised male, who was later transformed by the goddess Isis into a man.


Isis changing the sex of Iphis. Engraving by Bauer.

According to the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses, there was a humbly-born, but well-respected, man named Ligdus who lived in Phaestus with his pregnant wife, Telethusa.[1] Ligdus said he wished for two things: that his wife deliver the baby with as little pain as possible and that the child would be a boy. As the couple was poor, they could not afford a dowry if their unborn child was born a girl. Ligdus was forced to come to the conclusion that they must kill his wife's child if it wasn't a boy.[2] The couple cried, but Ligdus' mind was made up.[3] Telethusa despaired, but was visited in the middle of the night by the Egyptian goddess Isis. The goddess was attended by Anubis, Bubastis or Bastet, Apis, the god of silence (Harpocrates), Osiris, and the Egyptian serpent. Isis advised her to disobey her husband's orders and to keep the child, regardless if it was a girl, and guaranteed any needed future assistance to the woman.[4] When Telethusa gave birth to a girl, she concealed her daughter's sex from her husband and raised her daughter as a boy. Ligdus named the daughter, who he believed was a son, Iphis after his own father (the child's grandfather). Telethusa was happy with her husband's name choice, as it was a gender-neutral name.[5]

As Iphis reached the age of adolescence, Ligdus, still unaware of the truth, arranged for his "son" to marry the beautiful, fair-haired Ianthe, daughter of Telestes. Unaware of the truth and taking her suitor for a man like everyone else, Ianthe fell in love with Iphis, with whom she had been instructed alongside and shared the same teachers. Likewise, Iphis fell deeply in love with Ianthe.[6] Iphis lamented and prayed to Juno for assistance, as she wished to marry Ianthe, but knew it would be impossible as she was actually a woman.[7] Telethusa procrastinated the wedding of her daughter, Iphis, until she was unable to delay any longer.[8] One day before the wedding, the deeply concerned and desperate Telethusa brought Iphis to the temple of Isis and prayed to the goddess to help her daughter.[9] Isis was deeply moved and responded by transforming Iphis into a man.[10] The male Iphis married Ianthe and the two lived happily ever after, their marriage being presided over by Juno, Venus, and Hymenaios, the god of marriage.[11]

The story of Iphis is similar to that of Leucippus from Phaestus, Crete, and could be a variant thereof.[12]

Telethusa and Iphis pray to Isis by Crispijn van de Passe II


The story of Iphis and Ianthe is the only mythological account of female same-sex desire, not only in Ovid, but in all of Greek mythology.[13] Whether Ovid disapproves of or is sympathetic toward female homoerotic desire has been a point of contention for scholars.[13]

In popular culture

  • The 17th-century publisher Humphrey Moseley once claimed to possess a manuscript of a play based on the Iphis and Ianthe story, by William Shakespeare. Scholars have treated the claim with intense skepticism; the play has not survived.[citation needed]
  • Ali Smith's 2007 novel Girl Meets Boy is based on Ovid's story of Iphis and Ianthe, and is part of the Canongate Myth Series.
  • The Mechanisms' 2013 album Tales To Be Told features a song called "Iphis" based on the story of Iphis and Ianthe.
  • Liberty of London has fabric and leatherwork patterns named after both Iphis and Ianthe.


  1. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 4-10.
  2. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 13-21.
  3. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 21-27.
  4. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 28-53.
  5. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 58-69.
  6. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 73-84.
  7. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 92-151.
  8. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 154-162.
  9. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 163-179.
  10. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 180-194.
  11. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, Section 9, Line 203-206.
  12. ^ Antoninus Liberalis, The Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis translated by Francis Celoria (Routledge 1992). Section 17.
  13. ^ a b Kamen, Naturalized Desires and the Metamorphosis of Iphis. 39(1), 21.


  • Publius Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses translated by Brookes More (1859-1942). Boston, Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • Publius Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses. Hugo Magnus. Gotha (Germany). Friedr. Andr. Perthes. 1892. Latin text available at the Perseus Digital Library.