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Old 09-09-2012, 11:46 AM
dolphinboy dolphinboy is online now
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Castration Question

I understand the concept of castrati, and during certain periods in Europe it was fairly common to see them in choirs, but how was this surgically done so that the young boys survived into adulthood?

I know that antiseptics hadn't been discovered yet, so why didn't infection kill these young boys. I know they had successfully castrated large domesticated animals, such as horses and bulls, so they must have figured out how to do safely.

It appears that many of the castrati lived to what was then considered to be a ripe old age. How did they do it back then?
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  #2  
Old 09-09-2012, 11:55 AM
Arkcon Arkcon is offline
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The story that was put forth in the BBC starring Tony Robinson -- The Worst Jobs in History (and since he played Bardrick on Black Adder, he should know,) was that they put the boy in a very hot bath and basically squeezed the testicles, until they were broken up inside the body, and was just re-absorbed. There's little else I've heard of that gives me such a case of heebie-jeebies.

That said, there are surgical procedures available to people going back to the days of barber-surgeons. Yes, infection is always a problem, and without antibiotics, practically -- but not absolutely, a death sentence. But people can be remarkably lucky.
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Old 09-09-2012, 12:08 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
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Excision of the testicles would not require that much of an incision. Before puberty the testicles are very small. A small cut could be made in the scrotum, the spermatic cord tied off, and the testicles removed. The actual wound might be less than an inch long. Certainly there would be the threat of infection, but perhaps not much worse than other cuts or injuries that people ordinarily have no problem recovering from.

Aside from castrati, many societies also created eunuchs for other roles. I doubt whether this would have been so widely practiced if there was a very high mortality rate.
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Old 09-09-2012, 03:19 PM
ohnodano ohnodano is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dolphinboy View Post
I understand the concept of castrati, and during certain periods in Europe it was fairly common to see them in choirs, but how was this surgically done so that the young boys survived into adulthood?

I know that antiseptics hadn't been discovered yet, so why didn't infection kill these young boys. I know they had successfully castrated large domesticated animals, such as horses and bulls, so they must have figured out how to do safely.

It appears that many of the castrati lived to what was then considered to be a ripe old age. How did they do it back then?
First post :O

Anyways. It wasn't that advanced. A good deal of children did die from the process.
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Old 09-09-2012, 04:57 PM
Esox Lucius Esox Lucius is offline
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When my uncle castrated pigs on his farm--with just a sharpened jackknife--he put salt on the wound, I assume to prevent infection. It seemed to work.
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Old 09-09-2012, 05:18 PM
janeslogin janeslogin is offline
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I don't recall any problems with infection when castrating farm animals. When we castrated pigs they usually doused the wound with some gross mixture of something and turpentine which caused the animal some discomfort. With cows and sheep we had a gross tool with an end that we fitted around some anatomical feature called a ''cord'' and just squeezed it. The result at first seemed to be closer to a vasectomy than a castration but as I recall the testicle would then atrophy.
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Old 09-10-2012, 09:27 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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People got a LOT of surface wounds in the good old days and survived. The prblem with surgery - removal of appendices, etc - is that the person is already not in the best condition, and you are inserting infiectious material (without precautions) deep into the body, resulting in massive infections. After all, people had arms and legs and other parts amputated frequently, and death was a risk but nowhere near a guaranteed outcome.

Presumably like the same operation on farm animals (which were far more valuable) it was an acceptable risk for the benefit, especially when it happens to someone else.
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Old 09-10-2012, 11:31 AM
Ulfreida Ulfreida is online now
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Castrating young pigs -- I last did this 30 years ago so memory might not be so accurate -- involves making a small slit, squeezing the undescended testicle out, tying off the cord, and then cutting off the testicle. An antibacterial iodine wash is used for this kind of wound.

Other livestock with easier to grab testicles (calves, kids, lambs) are often 'banded' -- essentially a tight rubber band is installed around both testicles; they atrophy and fall off quickly. No incision so infection rate is low.

People wouldn't keep castrating this way if they lost many animals doing it. And people don't have to sleep on piles of their own feces the way many farm animals do.
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Old 09-10-2012, 12:04 PM
steronz steronz is online now
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This thread prompted me to read the wiki page on eunuchs, where I learned that in China, castration meant the removal of the testicals and penis. The article even includes a picture of one such unfortunate chap. For the target population they describe, castration was considered a more lenient penalty (compared to death), so it doesn't sound like they cared much whether the subject survived.

In fact, that seems to be the general attitude toward most eunuchs. While the castrati could eventually rise to fame, when they were castrated as children they weren't exactly members of the social elite.
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Old 09-10-2012, 12:16 PM
smithsb smithsb is offline
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For more on the subject you can google "straightdope testicle pliers" for a couple of memorable threads.
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  #11  
Old 09-10-2012, 12:52 PM
ralph124c ralph124c is offline
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Are there any records that these "castrati" lived to very old ages? I wonder if their arrested development had some benefit (outside of preserving their voices)?
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Old 09-10-2012, 12:53 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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The movie "The Last Emperor" has the scene where the departing eunuchs - being kicked out of the Forbidden City during the reform - were carrying little jars with their testicles; they kept them so they could be buried whole.

I recall an article with a series of dsicussions with these eunuchs - some survived into the 60's or 70's and were able to leave some information in interviews, etc. (Like the last emperor himself) One mentioned that he was castrated at age 12, apparently quite late for that crowd. The purpose was not punishment. Because enuchs would not try to take over the empire and establish a dynasty (logically) and made for a group that was likely to remain underlings. Apparently parents would occasionally do what was needed to sell their child as a eunuch to the palace.
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Old 09-10-2012, 03:06 PM
ftg ftg is offline
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Originally Posted by ralph124c View Post
Are there any records that these "castrati" lived to very old ages? I wonder if their arrested development had some benefit (outside of preserving their voices)?
Haven't visited the home page recently?
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  #14  
Old 09-10-2012, 08:50 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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In a TED talk, Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs graphically describes castrating lambs. Link spoilered for more more sensitive souls.
SPOILER:
http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs.html
Actual footage of the show he did this on is on YouTube.
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  #15  
Old 09-11-2012, 01:22 AM
Myglaren Myglaren is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ulfreida View Post

Other livestock with easier to grab testicles (calves, kids, lambs) are often 'banded' -- essentially a tight rubber band is installed around both testicles; they atrophy and fall off quickly. No incision so infection rate is low.
PJ Harvey was brought up on a farm and this job fell to her as the rest of the family were too squeamish to do it
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  #16  
Old 09-11-2012, 11:38 AM
dolphinboy dolphinboy is online now
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So the short answer is they had ways of doing it that apparently didn't kill off the young boys, although we don't know how many died as a result of subsequent infection from the procedure.

Since the boys likely didn't volunteer for this duty it seems incredible cruel, but as I understand it they were beloved and probably had better than average lives as a result.
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