The History of Eunuchs: From Ancient Courts to Modern Society

TLDR This episode explores the top 10 eunuchs throughout history, from Baguas, who was portrayed as the one person who truly loved Alexander the Great, to Farinelli, a castrato singer who became a huge star in the 18th century. The practice of castration, once seen as attractive to ancient courts, has been abandoned and is now considered unacceptable in modern society.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 In the 10th century, eunuchs were supplied by German warriors to Jewish surgeons who would castrate them and sell them to Islamic Emirates, and this episode will discuss the top 10 eunuchs throughout history.
04:55 Baguas, a eunuch, is a central figure in Mary Reynolds' book "The Persian Boy" and is portrayed as the one person who truly loves Alexander the Great without any ulterior motives, which contrasts with the way eunuchs are often seen as untrustworthy in historical sources. Another example is Sporus, a boy castrated by Emperor Nero to resemble his deceased wife Papaya Sabina, whom he was deeply in love with.
10:03 Eunuchs were seen as attractive to ancient courts because they were unable to have children, making them appear more loyal, and their physical beauty was preserved, but there were also those in the Roman court who viewed them as sinister and opposed to them.
14:37 Boston Corbett, a mentally ill man, castrated himself after being disturbed by an encounter with prostitutes, and later became known for shooting John Wilkes Booth, but his life ended tragically as he descended into madness.
19:12 Origin, a theologian from Alexandria, is rumored to have castrated himself, but there are doubts about the validity of this account due to a strained relationship with the bishop who supposedly knew about it, and because Origin himself wrote against castration in his commentary on Matthew. Another example of a eunuch is Samson Rowley, a Norfolk merchant's son who was captured by the Ottomans, castrated, and converted to Islam, eventually becoming the treasurer of Algiers.
23:53 One of the top ten eunuchs is Nazis, a Unuch of Armenian extraction who played a significant role in the Byzantine Empire, including leading the reconquest of Italy and organizing the region effectively for 12 years.
29:08 Farinelli, a castrato singer in the 18th century, became a huge star and made a lot of money, earning about £10 million a year in today's terms, despite the risks and consequences of the castration procedure.
33:15 Castrati singers were still performing in the 20th century, and the last castrato singer recorded on YouTube showcased their incredible vocal range, although the practice of castration was no longer fashionable and had been banned by the papacy in 1903.
38:33 Kondrati Ivanovich Selivanov was a man in 18th century Russia who convinced thousands of people to castrate themselves in order to break with original sin and achieve a pure state, with the practice only being stamped out during the Soviet Union.
43:13 Eunuchs were a significant part of Chinese society, serving as bureaucrats and even admirals, but their practice was eventually abandoned and is now considered unacceptable in modern society.
48:21 Eunuchs don't become women, except for Sporris who Nero wanted to have surgery to become a woman but couldn't implant a womb, and the reason behind Nero's desire is unclear but will be explored in a future podcast episode.
Categories: History

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