Eunuchs in history

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
#1
This may be the most painful post I've ever written on Historum.

Male castration is a common theme in history. For some ancient and medieval rulers, it could serve a practical purpose. Eunuchs might be used as bodyguards for a queen or a harem, because they can't become sexual rivals to their liege. Castrated advisers were often allowed to become very influential. They were regarded as less dangerous, because they had no hopes of overthrowing the current ruler to start their own dynasty.

Castration has also been used as a form of punishment or torture throughout history. I've come across several figures in the Victorian period who castrated themselves for supposed medical reasons. The 3rd Century Christian saint Origen, finding himself unable to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, mutilated himself to avoid 'fleshly temptations'.

Are there other reasons that people have been castrated in history? Consider, perhaps, male singers who were castrated to 'preserve' their voices. At least one Italian castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, lived into the 20th Century.

Who are some other famous eunuchs in history? Consider Bagoas, the Persian lover of Alexander the Great, or Narses, who replaced Belisarius as one of the greatest generals under the Roman Emperor Justinian. In the 12th Century, Imad ad-Din Zangi was murdered by one of his eunuchs. In the American Civil War, Boston Corbett, the man famous for killing John Wilkes Booth, is believed to have castrated himself with a pair of scissors.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
#2
Here's a recording of Alessandro Moreschi singing. Poor soul. It sounds terrible to my ears - I don't know if that's due to the primitiveness of the recording, or if it shows how much music has changed in the past century, or if it just means I'm preconditioned to by appalled by this, haha.

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbV6PGAWaIU]Alessandro Moreschi - Crucifixus (Rossini), 1902 - YouTube[/ame]
 
Jun 2013
2,361
--
#3
Bagoas, the Persian "king-maker" in the late Achaemenian court, comes to mind. Because of him I view most eunuchs in the same manner in which a Coulrophobe would view a clown.
 

Jake10

Ad Honoris
Oct 2010
11,960
Canada
#4
Zhen He comes to mind. He was the admiral who led the Ming armada as it explored different parts of the world. I find it a little strange that many were willing to follow a eunuch, but he is proof that a eunuch can be a military leader.
 

Zeno

Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
13,691
♪♬ ♫♪♩
#5
Farinelli also comes to mind. In his time he was considered the greatest castrate singer. There's a 1994 film about him.

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIPQtelKN28]Ombra fedele anch'io - Idaspe (1730) de Riccardo Broschi. Farinelli - YouTube[/ame]

Although Dionisi provided the speaking voice (originally in French), Farinelli's singing voice was provided by the Polish soprano, Ewa Malas-Godlewska and a countertenor, Derek Lee Ragin, who were recorded separately then digitally merged to recreate the sound of a castrato.
Farinelli (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
Nov 2012
1,700
#7
Farinelli also comes to mind. In his time he was considered the greatest castrate singer. There's a 1994 film about him.

Ombra fedele anch'io - Idaspe (1730) de Riccardo Broschi. Farinelli - YouTube


Farinelli (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
If I'm remembering the anecdote right, one London newspaper in the 1760s had to issue an apology for referring to a visiting Farinelli as "disgusting." Of course what they meant was that what had been done to him was disgusting.

Interestingly enough, castration was illegal in Italy, but mind-bogglingly enough, it was still done to young boys such as Farinelli by relatives hoping for opera singing profits.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2010
7,648
Cornwall
#9
They were a separate and powerful power bloc in the court of the Caliph of Córdoba. After the collapse, by the strange ways of politics in that era, 2 of them ended up ruling the independent Taifa of Valencia for a period - not that long though!
 
May 2014
696
Budapest
#10
Religion:

The skoptsy sect had many followers (~100.000) even into the 1900's. They were prosecuted by the Soviet Union, and it is believed that they died out.

Also, their "greater seal" was not simple castration, but even worse. :zany:

[ame=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skoptsy]Skoptsy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
 

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