Return to Born Eunuchs Library


Excerpt from:


"KOMBABUS", in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopaedie der Classichen Alterthumswissenschaft, Stuttgart, 1903-1978.

A typical cultic legend [related by Pomp. Trog. in Justin. X 2]: Hera commands Stratonike [the Syrian queen] in a dream to establish a temple at Hierapolis, or else she will suffer misfortune. Indeed, Stratonike falls ill, but soon recovers when she vows to build the temple.

Thus Stratonike is sent to Hierapolis with treasure and soldiers to build the temple. In spite of his protests, Combabus is entrusted [by the king, Stratonike's husband] with the supreme command; [Combabus] fears Stratonike due to evil rumors. He withdraws for a few days and sadly decides to remove the occasion for evil: he castrates himself (this motif returns again in the Attis myth in Prudentius, Perist. X 197 per sectum dedecus ab impudicae tutus amplexu deae) and places his privates in a small container with myrrh and honey and other spices, seals it and gives it ceremoniously to the king, who has it marked with his seal and held in safekeeping. For three years Combabus worked on the temple. And in fact, Stratonike fell in love with Combabus, probably under the power of the vengeful Hera. Finally, she could control her passion no longer and she fell into the madness of love. In order to be able to declare herself to Combabus, she got herself drunk, threw herself at his feet and threatened suicide. Then Combabus admitted the truth to her; the madness stopped, but not the love, and they lived in an intimate platonic love relationship. The Galli imitate this relationship: Galli and women are in love with one another and view this relationship as something holy.

Combabus was denounced and recalled; in one version Stratonike is supposed to have denounced him, like Potiphar's wife did Joseph. He was charged with betrayal of trust and ungodliness, and sentenced to death. Combabus said nothing; but as he was being led to his death, he asked for the jewel that he had given to the king for safekeeping. At this point everything is clarified, and the king exonerates him completely. The king has a statue of him erected in the soon completed sanctuary: the author saw there a statue of the Rhodian Hermocles, a figure of a woman in men's clothing.


Undoubtedly, we are dealing here with a pathological and not a purely religious (as usual, e.g. P. Nacke, Die angeblichen sexuellen Wurzeln der Religion, in Breslers Zeitschrift für Religionspsychologie II [1908] 4f.; the Freudian school of psychoanalysis; Lou Andreas Salome, Erotik und Religion, in: Die Erotik, Frankfurt am Main, 1910, 32ff.; Edward Carpenter, Beziehungen zwischen HomosexualitSt und Religion in Hirschfelds Vierteljahresbericht ; G. Runze, Religion und Geschlechtsliebe, Halle, 1909) or even philosophical (L.S.A.M. von Rsmer, Ýber die androgynische Idee des Lebens in Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen V 2 [1903] 711-921) phenomenon, for the explanation of which J.J. Bachofen, Die Saga von Tanaquil, Heidelberg, 1870; I. Bloch, BeitrSge zur €tiologie der Psychopathia sexualis, Dresden I, 1902, 78ff., ibid., Das Sexualleben unserer Zeit, Berlin7 1909, 104ff., and also M. Hirschfeld, Der urnische Mensch, Dresden 1903; the same, Die Transvestiten, Berlin, 1910, with pictures 1912, have contributed valuable material. Compare F. Cumont above, article Galloi (in PW). However, the matter itself is still not very well clarified.

Bloch (Die Prostitution, Berlin 1912 I 106) concludes from the statement of Pausanias about Attis that "pederastic cults were first introduced by some few originally homosexual persons." Thus he believes in the invention of cults: this does not happen and has never happened. There is no doubt: Combabus and his friends were abnormally oriented with respect to sexuality, they were members of the so-called intermediate types. For us, the following three forms are of interest: uranism, feminism, and transvestitism. They differ from one another in very definite ways: uranism is same-sex love, which only in exceptional cases seeks a fictional differentiation of the sexes through clothing. Feminism is the psychosexual feeling in opposition to the physical-sexual character, in which the man feels himself completely as a woman (e.g. the Hungarian doctor in Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia sexualis 1890): if intercourse with the physically-opposite sex is upheld in this case, it occurs by compulsion and with contrary quality of feeling, so that the affected persons admittedly, if external considerations did not stand in the way, would have carried out their wish to castrate themselves. With transvestites, finally, there is only a costume-related drive, while the sexual drive is normal; the transvestite man feels compelled to dress as a woman (naturally vice-versa as well, e.g. Semiramis Trog. Pomp. in Justin. I 1), in order to live in accordance with his physical and psychological needs. It must be kept in mind, however, that the sexual drive in him, although it is normal, is underdeveloped and in any case he is indifferent to its exercise. It may also be possible that this lifestyle will meet the needs of a sexual fetishist; that could lead to an intensification of one of the three mentioned phenomena, which are primarily congenital and only secondarily acquired.

Combabus was a transvestite, because he put on women's clothes for ever, like the Galli. The latter are also Uranians and effeminates; not only the sources prevent sharper distinctions, the intermediate types themselves also stand in the way, since it is common knowledge that Uranians prefer the passive role in intercourse, inasmuch as the intercourse is not totally limited to embracing and kissing.

In order for the Uranians to secure this cultically superior position, to which Combabus attests, various preconditions were required:

1. The use of eunuchs to serve noble women. This precondition is necessary because, aside from the fact that the temple cult demonstrably often developed from a house or family cult, it frequently finds its best parallels in the social conditions of the people. Thus, in geographical terms as well, the domain of transvestite priest-slaves is contiguous with the domain of the custom of eunuchism. This cannot be ignored, even less because these Galli were stigmatized (on stigmata, see C. Clemen, Mysterienreligionen und Sltestes Christentum, Giessen 1913, 28ff. with literature), which has its striking analogy in the secular slave relationship. Just as important is the observation that we encounter male transvestites only in the service of male deities (Hippolytos).

2. The special social status of Uranians: they have always held a special status in a positive and negative sense: they were deemed possessed by the divinity, chosen by the divinity itself for its service. Not that their condition was admired (thus Iwan Bloch, €tiologie 120ff., believes that at the beginning, feminine, homosexually-feeling persons were gladly made priests, their inclination appearing to primitive man as something especially demonic, and later they were artificially cultivated!) ; but the homosexuals abhorred normal sexual intercourse as something ugly and disgusting and thus they preached a kind of asceticism which pleased the divinity; on the other hand, the Uranians themselves are particularly vulnerable to easy suggestions and religious delusions as a result of their orientation. Thus precisely the reverse is true, when Bloch, €tiologie etc. p. 78ff., says that the religious state of mind awakens homosexuality; that is why what Tagyýldynkaschy tried to prove (Friedrich von Hellwald, Kulturgeschichte, Augsburg 1875, 511) may be true, that only a pederast could be a great Sufi, but we will not join Bloch, op. cit., in viewing this as "a typical example of a purely religious generation and exercise of a homosexual satisfaction of the sexual life."

3. The local centralization of the cults and thus of the priesthoods. The aforementioned orientation may have made the Uranians appear to be especially called to priesthood. But that they should exclusively make up the priesthood was possible only through the centralization of the cults in a few leading cultic locations, to which the population made pilgrimage from far away. If the cult had been broadly distributed, then it cannot be doubted that the Uranians unofficially would have made up only a fraction of the priesthood, if perhaps a significant one, like today among Christian theologians. If we assume that in antiquity and in the Orient there were only as many Uranians as there are among us, that is 1% (M. Hirschfeld, Der urnische Mensch, 1903, p. 122), and that the total of the other intermediate types that interest us only make up 0.5% of the population, then it is immediately clear that, if, in the predominantly religious orientation of ancient life, even a small fraction of this 1.5% joined the priesthood of the Galli, then these Galli could recruit exclusively from among them, and it would not be necessary at all to resort to artificial or violent motives and disciplines. This significant fraction of the intermediate types, however, also explains the significance and the broad scope which this priesthood, organized similarly to our Catholic orders, possessed. In a population of 10,000, there were 150 Uranians; but at the festivals 50,000 came together, so that this number could rise to 750; if out of this number only 50 or even fewer dedicated themselves to the priesthood, or let themselves be won over in the general delirium at the annual festival, or rather, discovered their calling, then that would correspond approximately to the percentage which, in core-Catholic areas, the priesthood currently makes up in proportion to the general population, namely 1:1000. Sexual abnormality, therefore, would be fully sufficient on its own to cover the demand for priests of that type. But this makes this priesthood itself appear in a different light. Let us consider above all the subjective feeling: they were not unhappy castration victims, stunted and degraded to become women for the sake of a particular purpose (like once, for example, the soprano and alto of the papal choir), but rather full human beings to whom a wish is fulfilled through the castration and whose life's meaning and enjoyment is increased, quite apart from the religio-ethical aspects. Certainly, a satisfaction in psychological terms also occurs, while the superior talent often associated with Uranism must also be taken into account. Moreover, we can also conclude negatively that this institution did not conflict with the spirit and sensibility of the population: otherwise it could never have survived, let alone arisen. But the Galli had not only their counterparts in non-priestly Uranians, they also had their patrons. They must have possessed enough moral power to fulfill their religious mission, at least in their eyes and the eyes of the believers, and that suffices for a religion.

The local centralization had one more advantage, however: it represented an attraction, as today for example, pilgrimage places and monasteries do for believers. The one making pilgrimage to them travels with a special attitude in his thoughts and feelings. Based on this attitude and the anticipated sensations, a calling arises in the person so oriented. And when the festival is added to it, with its orgiastic celebrations and the ecstatic goings-on, then the candidate falls for its effects.

The primary motivations for the institution of the Galli, the prototype of which is Combabus, are of this kind. Whatever other reasons are argued (letting alone the symbolic ones) are thoroughly secondary. But the latter must not be neglected, because they have significantly contributed to the preservation of the custom, and at a time, when for some reason the primary reasons would no longer be able to justify the custom, the secondary reasons carry the custom alone. Insofar as they do not match up with the primary ones in a back formation, the following [secondary reasons] can also be argued:
1. ieros gamos, which leads on the one hand to the unio mystica, which is also alive in Christianity, and on the other hand to the mystical coitus of a Hieronymus and Venantius Fortunatus. 2. Need for sensation, one wishes to experience and touch something. 3. Compulsion in various forms, for example as a betrothal of the parents. 4. Pecuniary advantages, which ever gave impetus to goliardism and flagellantism.