AskDefine | Define eunuch

Dictionary Definition

eunuch n : a man who has been castrated and is incapable of reproduction; "eunuchs guarded the harem" [syn: castrate]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Pronunciation

  • Syllables: eu·nuch
  • /ˈjuː.nʌk/
  • AHD: yo͞oʹnŭk

Etymology

Borrowed from Latin eunuchus, originally from Greek εὐνοῦχος (eunukhos) literally “bed keeper”, derived from εὐνή (eune) meaning “bed” + ἔχειν (ekhein) meaning “to keep”. Originally probably used to refer to a bed chamber attendent.

Noun

eunuch
  1. A castrated human male.
  2. Such a man who was harem guard or in Middle Eastern courts under Roman Emperors, important officials of the state.

Translations

a castrated human male
  • Finnish: eunukki
  • German: Eunuch
  • Russian: eвнух
such a man who was harem guard or in Middle Eastern courts under Roman Emperors, important officials of the state
  • Finnish: eunukki
  • German: Eunuch
  • Russian: eвнух

Adjective

eunuch
  1. Referring to someone or something which has been emasculated. (very rare)
  2. Referring to a castrato, or boy castrated to retain soprano or alto voice.

Extensive Definition

A eunuch () is a castrated man, in particular one castrated early enough to have major hormonal consequences; the term usually refers to those castrated in order to perform a specific social function, as was common in many societies of the past. The earliest records for intentional castration to produce eunuchs are from the Sumerian city of Lagash in the twenty first century BC. Over the millennia since, they have performed a wide variety of functions in many different cultures such as courtiers or equivalent domestics, treble singers, religious specialists, government officials, military commanders, and guardians of women or harem servants. In some translations of ancient texts, individuals identified as eunuchs seem to include men who were impotent with women, those we would now call transsexuals or homosexuals, and those who were simply celibate.

Origins

Some other famous eunuchs

Eunuchs in fiction

  • The Pardoner in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" is referred to in the General Prologue as either a "geldynge" or a "mare" (a gelding is a castrated male horse; a mare is a female horse). Neither the literary pilgrims nor modern scholars know whether he is a eunuch or a homosexual, as the text can be interpreted either way.
  • In Sondheim's musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," there are several eunuch characters as guards to the local house of Courtesans.
  • In The Country Wife, the main character, Mr. Horner, pretends to be a man turned eunuch by impotence caused by syphilis in order to gain access to the bedrooms of married women, with interesting consequences.
  • In Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, the character Mardian is a eunuch, in attendance on Cleopatra. She tells him: "I take no pleasure in aught an eunuch has."
  • Eunuchs appear often as villains in Hong Kong kung fu and wuxia films set in ancient China. For example, the films "Dragon Inn (Xin long men ke zhan)", "Butterfly Sword (Xin liu xing hu die jian)", and "A Touch of Zen (Hsia nu)" all feature a eunuch or a group of eunuchs as the main villain. A popular eunuch villain used in ancient China stories is Eunuch Wei, who is based on a historical figure named Wei Zhongxian. Eunuch villains are usually in charge of powerful political posts, such as being the leader of the East Chamber.
  • The Queen Salmissra, in David Edding's The Belgariad and The Malloreon, is only allowed to be served by eunuchs. Her Chief Eunuch Sadi becomes a principal character in the Mallorean, and is referred to in "The Prophecy" as "The Man who is no Man."
  • The character and narrator Taita in Wilbur Smith's "Egyptian" (1991-) series of novels is a eunuch (performed as a punishment while a slave).
  • Bagoas was the eunuch favorite of Alexander the Great (referenced above). Bagoas is the main character and narrator of The Persian Boy, a 1972 historical novel by Mary Renault.
  • In the Dune series, Count Hasimir Fenring was a genetic eunuch and the Emperor's closest friend and adviser.
  • Eunuchs feature prominently in Montesqieu's 1722 novel Lettres persanes, supposedly about Persian visitors to eighteenth-century France.
  • Anne Rice wrote of castrati in her 1982 novel "Cry To Heaven". The story is centered on the castrati characters of Guido Maffeo and Tonio Treschi, teacher and student.
  • Fiona McIntosh's "Percheron" series centers on a harem, guarded by Eunuchs.
  • In the book "Everworld: Realm of the Reaper" which is the fourth book in the Everworld series by K.A. Applegate Eunuchs guard the City of Hel (also known as "Her City").
  • In the 1981 film written, produced and directed by Mel Brooks, History of the World, Part I, during The Roman Empire segment, Josephus and Comicus are assisted in their escape from Caesar's Palace by Miriam and Empress Nympho, who hides Josephus as a eunuch in her rooms, but he is foiled by an erotic dance performed by the priestess of Venus.
  • In the book Candide by Voltaire one of the characters Candide encounters is a eunuch who was castrated and made to become a singer.
  • Olympia, WA band Frumpies have a song called "Eunuch Nights".
  • The historical novel Memoirs of a Byzantine Eunuch, by Christopher Harris (2002 Dedalus Books, ISBN 1 903517 03 6)
  • In Michael Moorcock's novel The Dreaming City, the royal palace of Imrryr is guarded by eunuchs.

Notes

eunuch in Bulgarian: Евнух
eunuch in Czech: Eunuch
eunuch in German: Eunuch
eunuch in Estonian: Eunuhh
eunuch in Spanish: Eunuco
eunuch in Esperanto: Eŭnuko
eunuch in French: Eunuque
eunuch in Korean: 환관
eunuch in Ido: Eunuko
eunuch in Indonesian: Orang kasim
eunuch in Italian: Eunuco
eunuch in Hebrew: סריס
eunuch in Kazakh: Әтек
eunuch in Dutch: Eunuch
eunuch in Japanese: 宦官
eunuch in Norwegian: Evnukk
eunuch in Polish: Eunuch
eunuch in Portuguese: Eunuco
eunuch in Russian: Евнух
eunuch in Simple English: Eunuch
eunuch in Slovak: Eunuch
eunuch in Slovenian: Evnuh
eunuch in Serbian: Евнух
eunuch in Finnish: Eunukki
eunuch in Swedish: Eunuck
eunuch in Thai: ขันที
eunuch in Vietnamese: Hoạn quan
eunuch in Ukrainian: Євнух
eunuch in Chinese: 宦官
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