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Flavius Philostratus

Life of Apollonius

1.33, 36

[Translation from The life of Apollonius of Tyana, the Epistles of Apollonius and the Treatise of Eusebius / [each] with an English translation by F. C. Conybeare, London : W. Heinemann ; New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1921]

... "Damis," said Apollonius, "I am thinking over with myself the question of why the barbarians have regarded eunuchs as sufficiently chaste to be allowed the free entry of the women's apartments."

"But," answered the other, "O Apollonius, a child could tell you. For inasmuch as the operation has deprived them of the ability to make love, they are freely admitted into those apartments, even if they did desire to sleep with women."

"But," he said, "do you think the desire to sleep with women has been cut out or the ability to do it?"

"Both," replied Damis, "for if you extinguish the part that lashes the body to madness, the fit of passion will come on him no more."

After a brief pause, Apollonius said: "Tomorrow, Damis, you shall learn that even eunuchs are liable to fall in love, and that the desire which is contracted through the eyes is not extinguished in them, but abides alive and ready to burst into a flame; for that will occur which will refute your opinion. And even if there were really any human art of such tyrannic force that it could expel such feelings from the heart, I do not see how we could ever attribute to them any chastity of character, seeing that they would have no choice, having been by sheer force and artificially deprived of the faculty of falling in love. For chastity consists in not yielding to passion when the longing and impulse is felt, and in the abstinence which rises superior to this form of madness."

Accordingly Damis answered and said: "Here is a thing that we will examine another time, O Apollonius; but we had best consider now what answer you can make to the king's magnificent offer ..."

1.36 [The next day in the king's presence:]
While they were thus conversing with one another a hubbub was heard to proceed from the palace, of eunuchs and women shrieking all at once. And in fact an eunuch had been caught misbehaving with one of the royal concubines just as if he were an adulteror. The guards of the harem were now dragging him along by the hair in the way they do royal slaves. The senior of the eunuchs accordingly declared that he had long before noticed he had an affection for this particular lady, and had already forbidden him to talk to her or touch her neck or hand, or assist her toilette, though he was free to wait upon all the other members of the harem; yet he had now caught him behaving as if he were the lady's lover. Apollonius thereupon glanced at Damis, as if to indicate that the argument that they had conducted on the point that even eunuchs fall in love, was now demonstrated to be true; but the king remarked to the bystanders: "Nay, but it is disgraceful, gentlemen, that, in the presence of Apollonius, we should be enlarging on the subject of chastity rather than he. What then, O Apollonius, do you urge us to do with him?"

"Why to let him live, of course," answered Apollonius to the surprise of them all.

Whereupon the king reddened, and said: "Then you do not think he deserves to die many times for thus trying to usurp my rights?"

"Nay, but my answer, O king, was suggested not by any wish to condone his offence, but rather to mete out to him a punishment that will wear him out. For if he lives with this disease of impotence, and can never take pleasure in eating or drinking, nor in the spectacles which delight you and your companions, and if his heart will throb as often as he leaps up in his sleep, as they say is particularly the case of people in love, - is there any form of consumption so wasting as this, any form of hunger so likely to enfeeble his bowels? Indeed, unless he be one of those who are ready to live at any price, he will entreat you, O king, before long even to slay him, or he will slay himself, deeply deploring that he was not put to death straight away this very day."

Such was the answer rendered on this occasion by Apollonius, one so wise and humane, that the king was moved by it to spare the life of his eunuch.