Section 2: Eunuchs Have No Lust for Women


     The next question is, if natural eunuchs can procreate, what makes them eunuchs? Perhaps it is because they are naturally disinclined to have sex with women. The quotations from ancient authors listed below are intended to demonstrate that eunuchs were sexually turned off by women.

     Before I give the ancient sources about eunuchs' lack of sexual drive toward women, I would like to support my view of homosexuality as an absence of desire by quoting the definitions offered by the late nineteenth century homosexual advocates and sex researchers. For the early identifiers of a homosexual type, a consistent sexual aversion to the opposite sex was perhaps more important a symptom of homosexual identity than was attraction to one's own sex, because until homosexual attraction in itself was made an indicator of mental illness, homosexual desire was assumed (in the West) to be part of a grab bag of sexual transgressions that any person might fall for. Homosexual attraction alone did not make one homosexual -- it was when the attraction was overwhelming and irresistible (because it was the person's only option for sexual fulfillment) that the person was defined as a homosexual.

     In his 1869 pamphlet in which he coined the term homosexual, Karl Maria Benkert described the "homosexual drive" as follows:

               ... along with the normal-sexual drive of all of humanity and of the animal kingdom,
               Nature appears in its sovereign caprice to have also provided, in both man and
               woman, the homosexual drive to certain male or female individuals at birth; to have
               conferred on them a sexual constraint which makes the one afflicted by it both
               physically and mentally incapable of achieving a normal-sexual [i.e. heterosexual]
               erection, even with the best of intentions, thus it implies a sheer horror of the opposite
               sex, and it makes it likewise impossible for those afflicted by this passion to escape
               the impression that certain individuals of their own sex exert upon them.
               [Magnus Hirschfeld, Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes, (Berlin,
               1914), p. 1.]

     Benkert, who was a lawyer, not a psychologist, was not bound by rules of scientific precision, and he excessively generalized the "horror" felt by some gay men and lesbians concerning heterosexual intercourse. Many gay men can obtain erections with women if they try, and many lesbians have had satisfying sexual relationships with men in their lives. Moreover, although another German lawyer and pioneer theorist of homophilia, Karl Ulrichs, also considered a feeling of horror about sexual contact with women to be a sufficient defining trait for one of his "urnings" (Ulrich's term for homosexual men), in a footnote he admitted that "this horror is apparently not always to be found. But where it is present, it is defining." [Karl Ulrichs, Memnon: Die Geschlechtsnatur des mannliebenden Urnings (Schleiz, 1868), p. 63.]

     Still, the basic idea is affirmed also by more systematic observers in the psychological sciences. In an 1892 article on the "Explanation of Contrary Sexual Feeling," Richard von Krafft-Ebing stated that:

               In its full expression ... each one is attracted to persons of their own sex and
               possesses an inclination to have sexual intercourse with them, while persons
               of the other sex have a psychosexually repulsive effect.
               [Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Der Conträrsexuale vor dem Strafrichter. Eine Denkschrift
             von R. Freiherr v. Krafft-Ebing, second expanded edition (Leipzig and Vienna, 1895).]

     In 1898, Havelock Ellis found that "a certain proportion [of homosexually active adolescent boys] remain insensitive to the influence of women, and these may be regarded as true sexual inverts." [Havelock Ellis, "Sexual Inversion," Part IV of Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. I (New York, 1942), p. 81.]

     Meanwhile Sigmund Freud, in a 1905 work Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, described the "absolutely inverted," i.e. homosexual, type (as opposed to the "amphigenously inverted," i.e. bisexual, and the "occasionally inverted," such as prison inmates) in the following terms:

               They are absolutely inverted; i.e. their sexual object must always be of the same sex,
               while the opposite sex can never be to them an object of sexual longing, but leaves
               them indifferent or may even evoke sexual repugnance. As men they are unable, on
               account of this repugnance, to perform the normal sexual act or miss all pleasure in
               its performance.
               [Sigmund Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, fourth edition,
               authorized translation by A.A. Brill (New York, 1930), p. 2.]

     Some have argued that the word homosexual and the definition given to it created the phenomenon that it was created to describe. It appears true that the creation of the word homosexual resulted in the conceptualization of its purported opposite, "heterosexuality," as the norm. By identifying sexual attraction to one's own sex as a symptom of an "abnormal" psychological or genetic affliction, this conceptualization intensely reified the denial of homosexual feelings in the majority group. The turn-of-the-century man either altogether denied sexual feelings for his own sex, or risked being diagnosed as one of Freud's inverts. The temptation to commit sodomy, which at one time all men were obligated to resist, suddenly did not even exist in "healthy, normal" individuals. Thus one might justifiably argue that heterosexuality is a nineteenth-century invention.

     But homosexuality, namely the inability to feel attraction to the opposite sex while experiencing lust for others of the same sex, is attested to in eunuchs throughout history. Now we will take a look at some of the ancient characterizations of eunuchs' sexual indifference to or impotence with women.

     The Sumerian myth of the creation of eunuchs, called in one version kurgarru and kalaturru,47  and in other versions assinnu or kulu'u,48  says these figures "do not satisfy the lap of the woman."49  They are specifically created, according to the myth, because they can resist the otherwise irresistible temptations of the queen of the underworld,50  and so rescue the goddess Ishtar from the land of the dead without becoming imprisoned there themselves. Eunuchs have long been associated with the worship of the mother goddess in the ancient world and were among the earliest temple priests from the beginning of recorded history.

     Wisdom of Sirach, one of the apocryphal books included in the Catholic Bible, says that embracing a girl makes a eunuch groan with nausea.51 It also says that a eunuch has no more desire to have sex with a girl than a righteous man has to use violence.52

     In a Roman play of the second century BCE titled The Eunuch, about a young lover who changes places with a eunuch in order to get access to a girl in whom he is infatuated, the playwright has his main character utter these lines in a case of foreshadowing: "From this moment, I erase all women from my mind. These vulgar beauties make me sick."53

     As stated in Section 1 previously, the Laws of Manu indicated that klibas would not ordinarily desire wives, which is why they are generally excluded from inheritance.

     Ovid laments that his married lover's guard, a eunuch, "would be amenable and accessible to my pleas" for access to her, if the eunuch's "love had ever glowed warm for any female."54

     Eunuchs such as the one who bought Joseph in the Bible55 and in the Qur'an,56  and the attacker of Evagoras in Aristotle's Politics,57  had wives, but their wives chased or ran off with other men. Juvenal was led to quip that "when a eunuch takes a wife, it is hard not to write satire."58

     Martial tells a funny story about a eunuch and an old man trying to have sex at the same time with a lusty young lady, but neither was able to follow through: "one was unable due to lack of male powers, the other due to having past the age of potency." The frustrated woman was left "praying to you, Aphrodite, for help for herself and the two wretches, that you would make the one a youth, the other a male."59

     Roman jurist Ulpian, who we know considered eunuchs to be strictly speaking able to procreate, still mentions them along with those who cannot "easily" procreate [Digest 28.2.6].

      Clement of Alexandria relates the beliefs of the followers of Basilides, a Gnostic leader, about Matthew 19:12: "Some men, from their birth, have a nature to turn away from women; and those who are naturally constituted in this way do well not to marry. These, they say, are the eunuchs from birth."60 As noted previously, Clement himself stated that a eunuch is unwilling (not unable) to perform sexual intercourse.

     Lucian said a eunuch would have as little use for a female concubine as a deaf man for a flutist, or a bald man for a comb, a blind man for a mirror, a farmer for an oar, or a sailor for a plough.61 Obviously Lucian was not thinking of the Kamasutra, which says a eunuch might hire a prostitute in order to pass for male.62  But then, in Greek society, an undercover eunuch would have no need to prove his manhood. No man was presumed to be a eunuch unless he either declared that he was, or acted or looked like a woman; the same is true for gay men today. However, in one case where an effeminate man had claimed to be a eunuch, but later wanted to deny that he was one, Lucian also noted that a test for whether the man was a eunuch was to get some female prostitutes and observe whether he could have sex with them.63

     Among the orthodox Christians, Tertullian said that eunuchs "repudiate marriage."64 Jerome felt that eunuchs from their mother's womb were "those of a colder nature, who do not seek lust."65 Gregory of Nazianzos (Oration 37:16-17) warned born eunuchs against being arrogant about their abstinence (with women, presumably) and at the same time against committing ritual prostitution, which had probably been a tradition among eunuchs since Babylonian times:

               "Be not proud, you who are eunuchs by nature. Your abstinence is practically
               involuntary. You are not tempted, and your abstention is not tested by trials.
               That which is good by nature is spurious; that by deliberate choice, is laudable.
               What praise is due to fire for burning? Burning is in its nature. What praise is
               due to the rain for falling down? It is the Creator who makes it do so. What praise
               to snow for being cold? or to the sun for shining? It shines without wanting to.
               I praise that which desires what is better. Praise to you, if, born flesh, you become
               spirit; if, weighed down like lead by the flesh, you take wing by the word; if, born
               low, you find heaven; if, bound by flesh, you rise above the flesh.

               "Since your abstention is not laudable, I ask something else of eunuchs. Do not
               commit prostitution in divine matters. Having yoked yourself to Christ, do not
               dishonor Christ. Perfected by the Spirit, do not make yourselves equal to the Spirit.
               'If I yet sought to please men, says Paul, I would not be the slave of Christ.'
               If I serve a creature, I will not be called a Christian."

This text is from the fourth century CE, a period of intense fighting between the supporters of the Arian doctrine, many of whom were eunuchs, and the forces supporting what was to become Christian orthodoxy, namely the belief that Jesus was fully and eternally God as well as human. During this time, eunuchs were highly influential as servants to the Roman emperors, who from the fourth century on were (almost) always Christian. Within two centuries, however, the concept of a born eunuch all but disappeared from western European culture.

     Turning now to the Islamic world, the Qur'an refers to "attendants who lack the primary skills of males"66  in a list of men before whom women may bare their ornaments. In one of the sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him), one of these attendants, here called a mukhannat or "effeminate," is prohibited from entering the women's apartments anymore, however, after he betrays too much sensitivity to women's attractiveness.67  This means that as long as a servant is insensitive to women's attractiveness, he can see her naked, for instance to bathe her or dress her. This insensitivity is an expected trait of a eunuch servant. When a certain one acted as though he noticed women's charms, he was banned from the house.

     A ninth-century Arabic paraphrase of Hippocrates's Airs, Waters, Places, condensed a section on some ancient Black Sea dwellers in a very telling way. An original sentence "Many Scythians ... become like eunuchs, doing the work of women and talking like women"68  became, in the Arabic version, "Many Turks ... become like eunuchs, being unable to have intercourse with women, doing work and speaking effeminately like women."69 The translator was led not only by his own perceptions of eunuchs, but by Hippocrates's statement that these particular Scythians had caused themselves to become impotent (by inadvertently cutting certain vessels behind their ears):

               Consequently, when they come into the presence of their wives and find themselves
               impotent, they do not perhaps worry about it at first, but when after the second and
               third and more attempts, the same thing happens, they conclude that they have sinned
               against the divinity whom they hold responsible for these things. Then they accept
               their unmanliness and dress as women, act as women, and join women in their toil.

Hippocrates also said the Scythians were "the most eunuchoid [eunouchoeidestatoi] of all human beings for the reasons stated."

     So there is a pervasive identification of eunuchs with an aversion to sex with women or to a kind of impotence, specifically  in the context of sex with women, which is not caused by an anatomical defect in the genitals. Thus we have proof of the first two legs of my thesis. The third will be a bit more fun, as it concerns the area where eunuchs' lust is found.

 Go on to Section 3: Eunuchs are Sexually Attracted to Men --- Table of Contents --- Home



47 Samuel Noah Kramer, "'Inanna's Descent to the Nether World' Continued and Revised. Second Part," in Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1951), p. 10, lines 219-220.

48 Bruno Meissner, Assyriologische Forschungen, Vol. I.1, Leiden: Buchhandlung und Druckerei, 1916, p. 50.

49 Samuel Noah Kramer, "'Inanna's Descent to the Nether World' Continued and Revised. First Part," in Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 4, No. 4 (1950), p. 200, lines 24 and 80. Akkadian: "úr-dam níg-dùg-ge-és nu-si-ge-me-és." Kramer's rendering, which I have converted into plain English, was "sates not pleasurably the lap of the wife."

50 Cf. the myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal in Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, tr. by Stephanie Dalley, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 163-181. Nergal, a god, did fall prey to Ereshkigal's enchantments.

51 Wisdom of Sirach 30:20. The context is about how a rich man who is ill is worse off than a healthy poor man, because his illness makes him turn off to the good things in life like food. "He sees things with his eyes, and groans, like a eunuch embracing a girl groans." Greek: "Blepôn en ophthalmois kai stenazôn hôsper eunouchos perilambanôn parthenon kai stenazôn."

52 Wisdom of Sirach 20:4. Literally, "A man who exerts justice by force of arms is like the desire of a eunuch to take a girl's virginity." I take this to mean that in both cases there is an internal contradiction or paradox. Greek: "Epithumia eunouchou apoparthenôsai neanida houtôs ho poiôn en bia krimata."

53 Terence, Eunuchus, II 3.292-296. Latin: "Deleo omnis dehinc ex animo mulieres: taedet cotidianarum harum formarum."

54 Ovid, Amores, II 3.5-6. Latin: "Mollis in obsequium facilisque rogantibus esses, si tuus in quamvis praetepuisset amor."

55 Genesis 39.

56 In the Qur'an 12:28-29, the Egyptian realizes his wife tried to sleep with Joseph and then cast the blame on him, and he chastises her for her lying, but not for her betrayal of him.

57 Aristotle, Politics, V 8.10. In a list of political assassinations motivated by revenge rather than ambition, Aristotle includes "... [the attack] of the eunuch against Evagoras of Cyprus, because his son had taken the eunuch's wife; he killed him because of the insult." Greek: "hê tou eunouchou Euagora tô Kupriô, dia gar to tên gunaika parelesthai ton huion autou apekteinen hôs hubrismenos."

58 Juvenal I 22. Latin: "Cum tener uxorem ducat spado ... difficile est saturam non scribere."

59 Martial XI 81. Latin: "viribus hic, operi non est hic utilis annis: ergo sine effectu prurit utrique labor. supplex illa rogat pro se miserisque duobus, hunc iuvenem facias, hunc, Cytherea, virum."

60 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, III 1.1. Greek: "Phusikôn tines echousi pros gunaika apostrophôn ek genetês, hoitines, tê phusikê tautê sugkrasei chrômenoi, kalôs poiousi mê gamountes. Houtoi, phasin, eisin hoi ek genetês eunouchoi."

61 Lucian of Samosata, Adversus Indoctum, 19, in Lucian, Vol. III, tr. by A.M. Harmon, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969, pp. 196-97. These are all examples of absurd purchases, intended to illustrate how odd it was for a certain ignorant man to have a huge library. Greek: "Zêtôn de aei pros emauton oupô kai têmeron heurein dedunêmai, tinos heneka tên spoudên tautên espoudakas peri tên ônên tôn bibliôn. ôpheleias men gar ê chreias tôn ap' autôn oud' an oiêtheiê tis tôn kai ep' elachiston se eidotôn, ou mallon ê phalakros an tis priaito ktena ê katoptron ho tuphlos ê ho kôphos aulêtên ê pallakên ho eunouchos ê ho êpeirôtês kôpên ê ho kubernêtês arotron."

62 See note 35.

63 Lucian of Samosata, Eunuchus, 12, in Lucian, Vol. V, tr. by A.M. Harmon, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936, pp. 342-345. Greek: "tinas tôn ex oikêmatos gunaikôn keleuein auton suneinai kai opuiein."

64 Tertullian, Monogamy, 1. "Heretics repudiate marriage; Sensualists encourage it. Not even once do the former marry, not only once the latter. What, then, do you enjoin, O Law of the Creator? Between heretical eunuchs on the one hand and your own extremists on the other, you have as much cause to complain of the libertinism of your household as you have of the puritanism of those who do not belong to you." Translation in Tertullian, Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage: To his wife, A Exhortation to Chastity, Monogamy, translated and annotated by William P. Le Saint, Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951. Latin: "Haeretici nuptias auferunt, psychici ingerunt. illi nec semel, isti non semel nubunt. Quid agis, lex Creatoris? Inter alienos spadones et aurigas tuos tantumdem quereris de domestico obsequio, quantum de fastidio extraneo."

65 Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 19.12. Latin: "Eunuchi sunt ex matris utero qui frigidoris naturae sunt nec libidinem adpetentes..."

66 Qur'an 24:31. Arabic: "wat- tabi'iuna ghair ula il-irbati min ar-rijali." Richard Bell writes: "One might suggest that the phrase indicates eunuchs if there were evidence that these were common in Medinah at that time." (A Commentary on the Qur'an, Vol. I, Manchester: University of Manchester, 1991, 24:31.) I would say gay men are common everywhere at every time. In any case, Prophet Muhammad and the companions referred to eunuchs according to several sayings of the Prophet, which I will speak of in the sections on sexual relations between eunuchs and other men.

67 Sahih al-Bukhari, LXII 114.

68 Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, Places, 22. Greek: "Eti te pros touteoisin eunouchiai ginontai hoi pleistoi en skuthaisi kai gunaikeia ergazontai kai hai gunaikes dialegontai te homoiôs."

69 Kitab buqrat fil-amrad al-biladiyya. Hippocrates: On endemic diseases (airs, waters and places); edited and translated with introduction, notes and glossary by J. N. Mattock and M. C. Lyons, Cambridge: published for the Cambridge Middle East Centre by Heffer, 1969, p. 150. Arabic (consonants only): "Ann ktir mn altrk m' ma dhkrna fihm yku shbh alkhsian la yqdrun 'li alnsa, w y'mlun a'm alnsa, w ytkllmun balkhnth mthl alnsa."

70 Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, Places, 22. Translation from The Medical Works of Hippocrates, translated by John Chadwick and W.N. Mann, Oxford: Blackwell, 1950, p. 108. Greek: "Hoi de meta tauta epeid' an aphikôntai para gunaika, kai mê hoioi te ôsi chrêsthai sphêsin autais, to prôton ouk enthumeuntai. all' hêsuchiên echousi ho kotan de dis kai tris pleonakis auteoisi peirômenoisi mêden alloioteron apobainê nomisantes ti hêmartêkenai tô theô hon epaitiôntai, enduontai stolên gunaikeiên. katagnontes heôuteôn anandreiên. gunaikizousi te kai ergazontai meta tôn gunaikôn ha kai ekeinai."