EUNUCH
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EUNUCH

  PHILO, JOSEPHUS, and PLINY have described the, ESSENES. Among the rabbis we find these different kinds of eunuchs, not only mentioned, but circumstantially described, cariyc (OT:5631) chama (OT:2535), eunuchs of the sun, i.e. eunuchs by the hand of God; men born impotent. Cariyc (OT:5631) 'Aadaam (OT:120), eunuchs of men, those who were castrated. And they add a third sort; those who make themselves eunuchs, abstain from marriage, etc., that they may give themselves up to the study of the divine law.

      In the section of the ancient Roman Digest of Laws dealing with women's claims on their dowries, the Roman jurist Ulpian faces the issue of marriages between women and eunuch slaves. He says: "If a woman marries a eunuch, I think that a distinction must be drawn whether he has been castrated or not, because in the case of a castrated man, there is no dowry; if the person has not been castrated, then there can be a marriage, and so there is a dowry, and a claim on it." I suppose the reason a non-castrated eunuch can get married is because he can procreate.

         In a discussion of defects in slaves that must be reported to buyers in advance by slave dealers, Ulpian states that "to me it appears the better view that a eunuch is not diseased or defective, but healthy, just like a man with one testicle who is also able to procreate." The issue here is whether a eunuch slave is capable of performing all the normal functions, in this case producing offspring. Ulpian states that a eunuch's imperfection, like that of a man with one testicle, does not prevent him from procreating. Just to make sure everything is perfectly clear, another jurist Paulus states right afterward: "If someone is a eunuch in such a way that he lacks a necessary part of his body, even internally, then he is diseased."Therefore, the undiseased, undefective form of eunuch mentioned by Ulpian, who is able to procreate just like a one-testicled man, is not missing any necessary parts of his body

     These distinctions reflect the fact that, as Ulpian states, "eunuch is a general designation: the term encompasses eunuchs-by-nature, then thladiae and thlibiae, and any other kind of eunuch." Thladiae and thlibiae are derived from words for crushing or abrading, so those words are standing in for the man-made eunuch. Then in another section on murderers, Paulus states that "those who make thlibiae are in the same position [i.e. subject to the penalty for murder] as those who castrate." So Ulpian has listed the three types of eunuchs almost exactly in parallel to the way Jesus did: born, man-made, and other, with the typical -- born -- eunuch being able to procreate

     Three provisions in the Code of Hammurabi refer to adoption involving "the son of a girsequ" (eunuch) or "the son of a salzikrum" (a compound word from woman and male). Geoffrey Driver and D.D. Luckenbill  both interpret this to mean the adopted son of a eunuch or male woman. But while the word for adoptee (tarbitum) is used in adjacent legal provisions, the standard word for son (dumu) is used for the child of the eunuch and the child of the male woman. Therefore the child is the natural child of the eunuch or of the male woman, which means the eunuch and the male woman are able to procreate. The law states that, unlike the case for some other children, the adoption of a son of a eunuch or male woman is irreversible, and it places severe corporal punishments on adoptees who attempt to circumvent these laws by contesting their adoptions. This is likely because the social roles of the eunuch and the male woman hinged on their not having families.

     In the Kamasutra and the Laws of Manu, a type of man is mentioned who is said to be a "member of the third sex." He is called a klibá. In the index to her translation of the Laws, Wendy Doniger defines a klibá as "a sexually dysfunctional man, who might be, according to the context, impotent, homosexual, a transvestite, or, in some cases, a man with mutilated or defective sexual organs."In Laws IX, 201-203, a klibá is excluded from inheritance rights, although a wise father is encouraged to provide clothing and food for a son who is a klibá, in order to keep him from "falling." However, it is said that if a klibá "should somehow desire" a wife, then "the children of those of them that produce offspring have a right to an inheritance."

     Clement of Alexandria warned Christians against the evils of eunuch servants being placed in charge of women, because they will act as pimps for the women, and moreover, "the true eunuch is not unable, but [merely?] unwilling to have sex." In other words, the women might get the eunuchs to sleep with them, as seen in Juvenal and Martial and at the beginning of the Arabian Nights.    

     Citing a late nineteenth century article on Chinese eunuchs by G. Carter Stent, Mitamura also notes that:

  "There was a distinction between those who were deprived of their sex in childhood and those who gave it up in their manhood. The latter were called ching or cheng, both words  meaning 'pure of body,' and the former were called t'ung cheng, which meant 'pure from        birth.' Favored by the court ladies, the t'ung cheng had no work assigned to them and   behaved like young girls."

If the t'ung cheng were castrated little boys, then far from acting like young girls. I also fail to see why they would be called pure from birth. What is most interesting here is that the Chinese also conceived of a born eunuch.


     Now, as Ulpian and Jesus both noted, the category of eunuch included not only born eunuchs, but also man-made eunuchs. At some point it occurred to some men that they might circumvent the law and satisfy their sexual lusts for other men by having sex with men who had been made eunuchs in advance, through injury to their reproductive organs. This, I can only say, evil practice is first mentioned to my knowledge by Herodotus, as a custom in Sardis in western Asia Minor in the early 6th century BCE In fact, none of the eunuchs mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures or in any other ancient text prior to Jesus are ever called "born eunuchs," because until about the sixth century BCE nearly all people who were called eunuchs were born that way.

         Moreover, some men chose to castrate themselves in order to take on the social roles reserved for eunuchs. The influential church father Origen apparently castrated himself to make himself "a eunuch for the kingdom's sake." Even born eunuchs might voluntarily become man-made eunuchs in order to reassure potential employers or fulfill the requirements of certain religious cults. Josephus, in Jewish Antiquities IV 8,40, indicated that in the case of some, since "it is evident that their soul has become effeminate, they have transfused that effeminacy to their body also." He could very well be referring here primarily to what we today call transsexuals. Meanwhile, already in the ancient world, there was an awareness that castration does not change a man's sexual orientation, to use the modern phrase, or his moral character. Martial ridiculed the case of a straight man who castrated himself to become a priest of Cybele in his epigram III 81:

Suetonius said of the emperor Titus that "he was suspected of excess; and likewise of lust because of his crowds of catamites and eunuchs."91 Apuleius, in the picaresque novel The Golden Ass, tells of a band of "half-men" [semiviri], 1 who call each other "girls" [puellae] and have sex with young men, both as active and as passive partners.2 They also act as cultic priests of the Mother Goddess, a traditional role for eunuchs.3  

1 Apuleios, The Golden Ass, VIII 28. The entire episode runs from VIII 24 to IX 10. A 1951 translation has recently been brought out in a new edition: The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass, a new translation by Robert Graves, New York: Noonday Press, 1951, 31st printing 1996. See "Chapter 12: With the Eunuch Priests."

2 Apuleios, The Golden Ass, VIII 26.

3 Apuleios, The Golden Ass, VIII 27-28.

    1. The Pleiades are found in the sixth degree of Taurus. Those who are born when these are rising are always involved in luxury and lust. They are always drenched in perfumes, given to too much wine drinking, impudent in speech, so that in banquets and love-making they attack their companions with a sarcastic wit. They are addicted to all crimes of passion and are the kind who raise laughter by their biting tongues. 2. They will always be well-groomed and well dressed. They twist their hair in ringlets and often present a fictitious appearance by using another's hair. They soften their whole body with various cosmetics; pull out their body hair and wear clothes in the likeness of women; they walk softly on their tip-toes. 3. But the desire for flattery torments them; they seek it so constantly that they think that from flattery they attain virtue and good fortune. They will always be in love, or pretend that  they are, and it pains them that they were born men. Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, VIII 7.1-3. Translation in Bram, p. 274.

   Although the Qur'an never uses the word khasy, it recognizes that not all persons are male or female and  that there are some people who are aqim, or "ineffectual,"109  and some men who "lack the primary skills of males."110 As for the issue of whether  Muhammad (peace be upon him) expressly approved of eunuchs -- and far be it from him not to have approved of Allah's creation –  

  Roman slave dealers were prohibited from concealing serious flaws in slaves. The purpose of the rulings in Book 21 Title 1 of the Digest was to determine what kinds of flaws would give rise to the rescission of a purchase contract if the seller had not reported them before the sale.

        Minor flaws, such as long-ago healed wounds or stuttering speech, were called defects and did not require disclosure. Relevant flaws, such as blindness or tuberculosis, were called diseases. The jurist Sabinus defined disease in this context as "an unnatural physical condition whereby the usefulness of the body is impaired for the purposes for which nature endowed us with bodily health." Ulpian declares that "if there be any defect or

  Pliny the Elder assigned eunuchs and hermaphrodites to the "third gender called half-male," saying this category also included men whose testicles were destroyed, either by injury or by natural causes (Natural History 11.49).

Last modified: 12/24/13