Question about Persian eunuchs

I’ve read conflicting reports that Persian eunuchs (and other eunuchs in the ancient world) were testicular only (i.e. only their testicles had been surgically removed) and that they were emasculatos (i.e. both their testicles and either all or part of their penis had been removed). I know that the castrati (thousands of years later) were testicular only as were most of the Byzantines, but the Chinese definitely removed the full package as did some Arab cultures at various times.

Does anybody happen to know which was the norm? (Since they were used often for sexual pleasures by men it would seem unlikely that the scarred remains of a penis would lend itself to sexual enjoyability, but otoh ancient life was often brutal and nasty so…)

You dont need anything except a bloody stump to take it up the bum…and from what I understand, the slaves were on the ahem recieving end, not the giving end as it were…it was a perjorative to call somebody the latin equivalent of the one who gets porked instead of the person doing the porking :frowning: [i used to know the term…but have forgotten it though I would probably recognize it if i saw it.]

As you discovered from your readings, “the norm” depended on your specific culture (and time period). Simple castration was a more perfected procedure in ancient times – after all, plenty of opportunity to practice by gelding steers, pigs, horses, etc.; removal of the penis is a bit more complicated, what with the blood supply and the requirement to retain the urinary outlet. With premodern medicine, it would be a high risk for hemorrhage and grievious UTIs, on top of common surgical infection.

According to Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (looking here at a regular paper copy), in the medieval Middle East African suppliers of eunuch slaves would generally deliver complete emasculates (with a near-25% mortality rate), Balkanic suppliers would provide only castratos. In Roman times, there were both kinds

In places like China (full emasculation), apparently part of the problem was that even a castrated man CAN achieve an erection, so if the point was not just that he have no children, but that he have no sexual pleasure at all, they’d go whole hog.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go and try to unclench my crossed legs…

First let me point out that it is incorrect to use the term “castrato” for a man who has been simply gelded; the proper term for those is, indeed, eunuch. A castrato was one who, between the ages of eight and puberty, had undergone a highly specialized procedure which left him incapable of insemination, although most of them seem to have been fully capable of initiating intercourse (however, at least one site I read claimed that the <ahem> size of the equipment suffered). Indeed, it appears to me that retaining the capacity to produce at least some male hormones was vital, as without them, the (usually) enhanced vocal range, and especially the greatly enhanced volume and voice support would never have been realized.[sup]1[/sup] Castrati were made in order to have males who could sing female ranges with the volume and resonance of men, and were in demand with the various Crusader knightly orders for the singing of Masses, as well as with the creators of secular vocal music. If you check into some of the links, you’ll find that the Vatican was the last organization or institution using them.

The details of the procedure were lost in the mid-19th century, as they were never publicized, and may not ever have been written down. {My personal speculation is that it involved the severing or removal of the vas deferens, although I’d be interested to hear opinions - especially contradicting ones - from one of the SD doctors.} Here’s a link which discusses castration in general terms, and the production of the castrato voice in particular.

A few years back there was a movie made about a castrato. I never saw it, but here’s a link to a page which will give more information and more links, including one to buy a copy of a digitally remastered recording of the voice of Allessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), the last of the castrati.

Here’s the Wikipedia page on it. And here’s another link: Who were the Castrati?

Of course, you could always Google it, as I did. :slight_smile: Some of the sites I looked at claimed that countertenors were practically the same as castrati. I seriously question this, as I knew two of them (father and son), and neither had significantly more volume than many sopranos I’ve known (myself emphatically included). Of course, there are some countertenors singing professionally who do have greater volume than most women singing in the same range, but on the basis of personal experience, I take leave to doubt whether the average countertenor (rare birds, to be sure) has volume similar to that of the castrati.

[sup]1[/sup]Having the ability to initiate intercourse was never the primary requirement; some hormone production was necessary in order to produce the volume and voice support one associates with the male voice throughout his range. Castratos were enormously popular with women who sought sex without the risk of pregnancy, although that was not a consideration with either those who created them, or those for whom they were created.

My uncle José Luis Ochoa de Olza (sorry, no link) is a musicologist, specializing in Baroque music.

He claims that one of the best days of his life, or at least of the last 30 years (!) was when he met his current tenor. This guy has a beautiful voice, but because he had never received any musical training, he had not learned how to raise the volume etc etc. My uncle has specifically trained him as a pre-Renaissance tenor, with the emphasis on getting the tone “just so” and “not on being able to fill the Scala with garbling” (uncle’s words). He still can sing louder than most, but he knows how to sing at the right volume for the setting and usually sings in small settings like churches and old palaces; I’ve been in concerts by Operatic singers that took place in small churches and lemme tell you, it just doesn’t sound right.

Considering that any trained operatic soprano can sing much louder than my full blast without even straining, methinks the biggest part of it is training (unless Kiri te Kanawa or Montserrat Caballe have higher-than-average male hormones, remember that both sexes produce all kinds of hormones). Also, I understand from conversations with Uncle that whereas some eunuchs would be castrated pretty much at birth, part of the deal with castrati was in picking the precise time for it: the boys had been receiving musical training since early childhood, and those who had the “right” voice around age ten would get castrated “to freeze the voice”.

And you know, I’m female, but right now my legs are trying to braid themselves.

Ah. I’ll bet you’ve never heard women and men with equal training (none to decades) competing on who can sing loudest - even the most egotistical of them generally prefer to be noted for how well - including ensemble participation - they sing. :slight_smile: Besides, it’s a dumb thing pushing one’s voice trying to sing loudly; entirely aside from the potential for harm to “the instrument,” projection generally works well enough, unless they’re in some acoustic nightmare of a building.

I’ll concede that Caballe has quite a bit of volume. As far as that goes, when I was a bit younger, and singing from the throat (absolutely verboten to trained singers), the sound man in one church (sanctuary’s approximate capacity was ~500) where I was pianist absolutely refused to mike me (not asked by me). And I understood. But a trained male voice could have outdone me easily, although I think I could have readily drowned the overwhelming majority of operatically trained sopranos.

(and yes, singing loudly did have its effects on my voice)