Section 3: Eunuchs are Sexually Active with Men

     The final piece in the puzzle is to prove that eunuchs enjoyed sex with men, and so were not entirely unacquainted with lust as Jerome implied or unwilling to perform sexual intercourse as Clement put it.

     The Kamasutra has an entire chapter on klibas seducing men to allow them to perform oral sex on them. In fact, "klibas get particular enjoyment from oral sex, as well as their livelihood."71

     A Sumerian list of dream omens from the seventh century BCE states that "if a man submits himself sexually to males [in a dream], like an assinnu he will develop a strong yearning to be a sex object for other males [in waking life]."72  This association between eunuchs and passive homosexuality may be why the Middle Assyrian Laws make being rendered a saris the punishment for male passive homosexuality.73 Another of the omens predicts that "if a man has sexual intercourse with an assinnu, for a whole year the deprivations which beset him will disappear." The next omen repeats the prediction for when a man has intercourse with a girsequ,74  the term for eunuch mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi.75

     An astrological prediction confirmed that men took kurgarrus into their homes and the latter "made babies" for them, a phrase which is surely meant figuratively.76

     Aristotle warns that boys allowed to indulge in anal intercourse will grow to like it,77 "and some will become 'impubescent' [anêboi] from birth and 'nonreproducing' [agonoi] due to an imperfection of the reproductive organs; in the same way, women can also become 'impubescent' from birth."78 Here Aristotle provides an early, if ambiguous, example of the denial that some people are born with a gay identity. It is a denial of the innateness because he relates the impotence to having been allowed as children to indulge in homosexual sex, but it is an ambiguous denial because he nonetheless uses the phrase "from birth."

     Quintus Curtius reports that "365 concubines, the same number as Darius had had, filled [Alexander the Great's] palace, attended by herds of eunuchs, also accustomed to being used like women."79

     Without calling Alexander a eunuch, his Roman biographer of the fourth-century CE said he "scorned sensual pleasures to such an extent that his mother was anxious lest he might be unable to beget offspring,"80 and there seems to have been some doubt expressed as to his eligibility for the Macedonian throne.81  In other words, Alexander may have been a natural eunuch. He had two passionate love affairs in his short life, both with men. The first was with his childhood friend and later general, Hephaiston, to whom he felt so close that he told the Persian queen: "This man too is Alexander."82  The second was the defeated Persian king's lover Bagoas, "a eunuch of remarkable beauty and in the very flower of boyhood, who had been loved by Darius and was afterward to be loved by Alexander."83 Bagoas, "who won the regard of Alexander by submitting his body"84  for sex, convinced Alexander to execute a certain Persian chieftain who had insulted Bagoas by calling him a harlot. This chieftain had asserted that it was "not the Persian custom to marry males who were feminized by being screwed."85

     In spite of the chieftain's protestation, there is some doubt that the custom was entirely alien to Persia.86  It is certainly clear that Darius, Bagoas's lover before Alexander, was a Persian! In fact, Zarathustra himself, the Persian prophet, seems to have been aware of the "rapture which a friend induces in a friend."87  Moreover, using eunuchs for passive sex partners was a widespread custom across the Mediterranean region.

     A character in Terence's play about the eunuch impostor, when he sees the fake eunuch who is really a handsome male teenager, says: "That eunuch ... if I were in lust, even if I were sober, I'd ..."88  Unfortunately, he stopped short of saying exactly what he would do, but I think it is clear.

     The Jewish historian Josephus told of the problems King Herod had with his closest eunuch companions, of whom he was "very fond on account of their beauty."89 The king's son Alexander was continually plotting against him, and Josephus reported that "someone told the king that these eunuchs had been corrupted by Alexander ... with a great deal of money. And when they were asked about it, they admitted the association [with Alexander] and [that] sex [was involved], but they were not aware of any mischief aimed at the father."90

     Suetonius said of the emperor Titus that "he was suspected of excess; and likewise of lust because of his crowds of catamites and eunuchs."91

     Apuleius, in the picaresque novel The Golden Ass, tells of a band of "half-men" [semiviri],92  who call each other "girls" [puellae] and have sex with young men, both as active and as passive partners.93  They also act as cultic priests of the Mother Goddess, a traditional role for eunuchs.94

     The next piece of evidence is a bit complicated. It consists of some comments by Clement of Alexandria about the followers of Basilides, a Christian Gnostic. Clement said they lived "lewder lives than the most uncontrolled heathen." They did not live purely, imagining "they had the power even to commit sin because of their perfection." He said "the original teachers of their doctrine did not allow one to do the same as they are now doing."95 What I would like to consider is that some of these Basilidians were born eunuchs who were indulging in homosexual sex.

     The Basilidians quoted Jesus as having said some people were eunuchs from birth, and others were eunuchs by necessity.96  Then they said the born eunuchs were those with a natural aversion to the female (which would be gay men). They said the eunuchs by necessity were those who made a show of abstaining from sex because they wanted other people to admire their spirituality (Catholic celibates?). They also said people who were accidentally emasculated were eunuchs of necessity.97  Finally, they said the eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven were spiritual people who refrained from marriage in order to avoid the distractions of making a living.98 This last category could of course be made up of both gays and single nongays. In general, the Basilidians' sensitivity to gay sexual orientation, religious hypocrisy, and the spiritual advantages of single life, speaks to me of a gay perspective. But that's not all.

     Clement's charge that the Basilidians were lewd and outside the bounds of their own doctrine was prefaced by a quote from one of the Basilidian teachers, Isidore, advising marriage as a way of dealing with chronic lust. But for for those who could not marry for whatever reason, Isidore had apparently said:

               if someone is a youth, or poor, or 'sunken' [katopheres], and he does not
               wish to marry according to the saying, then let him not be separated from
               his brother. He should tell himself: I have entered the sanctuary, I cannot
               submit to anything. But if he has any hidden thoughts, he should say:
               Brother, lay your hand on me so that I do not sin; and he will receive help,
               both in the mind and in the senses. Let him only wish to accomplish what
               is right and he will succeed. Sometimes, however, we say with our mouth,
               "I wish not to sin," while our mind is really inclined towards sin. Such a
               man does not do what he wishes for fear lest any punishment be in store
               for him. Human nature has some wants which are necessary and natural,
               and others which are only natural; sexual pleasure [to tôn aphrodisiôn] is
               natural, but not necessary.

This "sunken" man, for whom the saying "it is better to marry" does not apply, could be the born eunuch who has a repulsion from women. When he feels lust and is afraid he may fall, Isidore suggests he have a brother lay his hands on him, which is supposed to make him feel a power in his mind and body. This suggests a homoerotic touch. But my idea is that in Clement's day, the Basilidians who could not marry were not settling for a warm brotherly hug, and instead were indulging themselves further with each other or with other men. This then would be why Clement calls them "lewder than the most uncontrolled heathen." On the other hand, the "sunken" man could be an ordinary nongay man who has led such a dissolute sexual life, possibly including passive homosexual activity, that he is not considered eligible for marriage.

     I will now move on to more straightforward evidence.

     Aelian, a third-century Greek rhetorician, recounts the beautiful story of the sorrow of a Persian king for a beloved eunuch who died: "He had been the most handsome and attractive man in Asia. He ended his days still a youth, emerging from childhood, and the king was said to be greatly in love with him. As a result, he lamented bitterly and was in great distress; there was a public mourning throughout Asia as a gesture to the king from all his subjects."100 Aelian's description recalled a similar mourning by the Roman empreror Hadrian, who had erected statues of his beautiful lover Antinous throughout the empire after his death. Some of these statues still exist.101

     The fourth-century Sicilian astrologer Firmicus Maternus consistently listed eunuchs next to other homosexual and third-gender types. He said that Mercury and Saturn together ascendant in a feminine sign "make eunuchs, that is males without semen and who cannot have sex [coire], obscene, disreputable, impure, lewd, passive homosexuals [cinaedos]."102  (Notice that, in the fourth century, Firmicus applies the word "males" to eunuchs.) A waning Moon from Venus to Saturn in nocturnal makes "either sterile men, or eunuchs, or high priests of Cybele, or hermaphrodites, or in any case such which are compelled by the heat of miserable lust to play the passive role of women."103 An ascendant in terms of Saturn in nocturnal "makes impure, lewd, sordid men and those involved into sinful acts by miserable lust and those [i.e. eunuchs] who cannot approach natural sex but who are taken by the inverted fury of lust against nature."104

     A passage from chapter eight of the Mathesis describes a certain stereotype of gay men so well, that I wish to quote it in full:

              1. The Pleiades are found in the sixth degree of Taurus. Those who are
              born when these are rising are always involved in luxury and lust. They
              are always drenched in perfumes, given to too much wine drinking, impudent
              in speech, so that in banquets and love-making they attack their companions
              with a sarcastic wit. They are addicted to all crimes of passion and are the
              kind who raise laughter by their biting tongues. 2. They will always be
              well-groomed and well dressed. They twist their hair in ringlets and often
              present a fictitious appearance by using another's hair. They soften their
              whole body with various cosmetics; pull out their body hair and wear clothes
              in the likeness of women; they walk softly on their tip-toes. 3. But the desire
              for flattery torments them; they seek it so constantly that they think that from
              flattery they attain virtue and good fortune. They will always be in love, or
              pretend that they are, and it pains them that they were born men.

     Unfortunately, under the influence of the Christian church and Germanic invaders, the born eunuch category disappeared in Europe, and the category of eunuchs was increasingly defined in the Christian world not by a lack of lust for women, which the Christians felt was a proper goal for all men to strive for, or even by "unnatural" lusts, but by castration or sterility.

     Not so, however, in the growing Islamic world, where eunuchs have continued to serve as passive sex partners for men to this day.106 In the East, homosexual activity continued to be recognized as a natural, albeit disallowed, outlet for male lust. A hadith (traditional story about Muhammad) narrated by ibn Mas'ud says: "We used to fight [in battle] together with the Prophet, peace be upon him. There were no women with us. We said: O Messenger, may we treat some as eunuchs? He forbade us to do so."107  The Qur'an generally scorns "approaching males in lust to the exclusion of women", as well as the castration of males, as the sin of the people of Lot.108

     But the Qur'an does not prohibit using natural eunuchs (who were not considered "male") as passive sex partners. Although the Qur'an never uses the word khasy, it recognizes that not all persons are male or female and that there are some people who are aqim, or "ineffectual,"109  and some men who "lack the primary skills of males."110  As for the issue of whether Muhammad (peace be upon him) expressly approved of eunuchs -- and far be it from him not to have approved of Allah's creation -- there is a tradition in which Muhammad forbids 'Uthman bin Maz'un from adopting a eunuch lifestyle, i.e. abstaining from marriage. But it is related also that Abu Huraira went to the Prophet, saying that he was a "young male" who was afraid that his ego would lead him into illegal sexual intercourse but that he did not "find [or feel] that with which to marry a woman," and the Prophet remained silent, even after Abu Huraira repeated his statement three times. Finally after the fourth time, Muhammad said: "O Abu Huraira, the pen is dried as to what is befitting for you. So be a eunuch or leave it alone." (Bukhari, Book 62 "Nikah", Ch. 8).

     The Qur'an also says repeatedly that no burdened soul shall bear the burdens of another.111 In the case at hand, I take that to mean that eunuchs should not take on the burdens of males, and vice-versa, but rather people should try to live their lives in the manner which is most becoming for them.

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71 Kamasutra, II 9. English: "Eunuchs get particular pleasure from oral sex, as well as their livelihood." German: "Die Eunuchen finden an dem Mundkoitus ein eingebildetes Vergnügen wie ihren Lebensunterhalt." See note 33.

72 J. Bottero and H. Petschow, "Homosexualität," in Erich Ebeling and Bruno Meissner, eds., Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie, Vol. 4. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1975, pp. 464, § 13.

73 "If a man sexually penetrates his neighbor, a charge shall have been brought against him, proof shall have been brought against him, he shall have been sexually penetrated, he shall be rendered a saris." Akkadian: "sum-ma LÙ tap-pa-a-su i-ni-ik, ub-ta-e-ru-ú-us, uk-ta-i-nu-ú-us, i-ni-ik-ku-ú-us, a-na sa ri-se-en ú-tar-ru-us." Middle Assyrian Laws §20 (Tablet A, col. ii, lines 93-97), in G.R. Driver and John C. Miles, eds., The Assyrian Laws, with translation and commentary, Oxford: Clarendon, 1935, pp. 390-391. Driver and Miles interpret line 96 ("he shall have been sexually penetrated") as part of a punishment for the active partner, while D.D. Luckenbill interprets it as a restating of the crime, with "he" being the passive partner. Both translators, however, consider the punishment in line 97 ("he shall be rendered a saris") as being applied to the active partner. But one might better conclude that the passive partner is actually the criminal who is made a saris, especially in view of the previous provision §19 against slander, in which a man can be beaten for calling his neighbor a sexual passive without bringing a formal charge. Obviously, if one can be formally charged with sexual passivity, then it must be a crime. If male passivity is the crime here, that would be in line with the values of other Indo-European cultures such as the Greeks, Romans, and the Germanic cultures. See next section, on castration.

74 The Assyrian Dictionary, Vol. A, under the word assinnu (b), p. 341; Vol. G, under the word girsequ (c), p. 95. These omens, part of the Summa Alu, are located in Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, Vol. 39, London: The Trustees, 1896-1990, Tablet 45(55), lines 32-33. Akkadian: "summa amêlu ana as-sin-ni ithi" and "summa amêlu ana GÌR.SÈ.GA TE kala MU.1.KAM tamtatu sa GAR.MES-sú ipparrasa." I could not find a translation or transliteration of the entire list of omens.

75 See note 26 (Section 1).

76 Bottero § 16, p. 465-466, who cites L'astrologie chaldeene No. 12, line 12 and following.

77 Aristotle, History of Animals, VII 1.5. Literally, "the memory of the shared pleasure creates a desire to make the intercourse occur again." Greek: "hê tote mnêmê tês sumbainousês hêdonês epithumian poiei tês tote ginomenês homilias ..."

78 Aristotle, History of Animals, VII 1.6. Greek [continued from previous note]: "... ginontai de tines anêboi ek genetês kai agonoi dia to pêrôthênai peri ton topon ton gonimon. homoiôs de kai gunaikes ginontai anêboi ek genetês."

79 Quintus Curtius VI 6.8. Latin: "Pelices CCC et LXV, totidem quot Darei fuerant, regiam implebant, quas spadonum greges, et ipsi muliebra pati assueti, sequebantur." If Alexander did keep that many concubines, it still does not mean he was not a secret eunuch. The text does not say he slept with them. It does say Alexander took a liking to a young man Euxenippus, whose virility is in doubt: "He was still very young and a favorite of the king because of his blossoming youth, but although he was equal to Hephaiston in the beauty of his body, [Euxenippus's] less than virile charm was not on a par with his." Latin: "... adhuc admodum iuvenem, aetatis flore conciliatum sibi, qui cum specie corporis aequaret Hephaestionem, ei lepore haud sane virili par non erat." (Curtius VI 9.19). And in any case, Alexander's relationship with the eunuch Bagoas has already been mentioned above.

80 Quintus Curtius, History of Alexander, tr. by John C. Rolfe, Vol. I, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1946, p.11. Books I and II are lost, but a summary is provided in the first volume of this two-volume edition.

81 Quintus Curtius, ibid., p. 16-17. The biographer Quintus Curtius related that when the youthful Alexander's father took another wife, the new bride's uncle Attalus, having drunk too much at the wedding banquet, made the following toast: "The Macedonians ought to pray the gods that from the new marriage Philip might rear a legitimate successor." Curtius says that "Alexander, enraged by the insult, threw his cup at Attalus's head, and Attalus threw his cup at Alexander."

82 Quintus Curtius III 12.15ff. Hephaiston compared his relationship to Alexander with that of Patroclus to Achilles in Book II (see ibid., vol. I, p. 38).

83 Quintus Curtius VI 5.23. Latin: "Inter quae Bagoas erat, specie singulari spado atque in ipso flore pueritiae, cui et Dareus assuerat et mox Alexander assuevit ..."

84 Quintus Curtius X 1.25-26. Latin: "Bagoae spadoni, qui Alexandrum obsequio corporis devixerat sibi, nullum honorem habuit, adminitusque a quibusdam Bagoam Alexandro cordi esse, respondit amicos regis, non scorta se colere, nec moris esse Persis mares ducere qui stupro effeminarentur."

85 Quintus Curtius X 1.26. The entire story is recounted in X 1.22-38.

86 See note 100, below.

87 Zarathustra, Gathas XLVI 2.4. Transcribed original: "Rafedhrem chagvâo hyat fryo fryâi daidit." The transcription and translation is from T.R. Sethna, The Teachings of Zarathustra: The Prophet of Iran on How to Think and Succeed in Life, Karachi: T.R. Sethna, 1975, pp. 76-77.

88 Terence, Eunuchus, line 479. Latin: "Ego illum eunuchum, si opus siet, vel sobrius ..."

89 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XVI 8.1.230. Greek: "êsan eunouchoi tô basilei dia kallos ou metriôs espoudasmenoi."

90 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XVI 8.1.231. Greek: "kai tis anaggellei tô basilei diaphtharênai toutous hup' Alexandrou tou paidos epi pollois chrêmasin. anakrinonti de peri men tês gegenêmenês pros auton koinônias kai mixeôs hômologoun, allo d' ouden duscheres eis ton patera s uneidenai."

91 Suetonius, Titus, 7. Latin: "suspecta in eo ... luxuria erat ...; nec minus libido propter exoletorum et spadonum greges."

92 Apuleios, The Golden Ass, VIII 28. The entire episode runs from VIII 24 to IX 10. A 1951 translation has recently been brought out in a new edition: The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass, a new translation by Robert Graves, New York: Noonday Press, 1951, 31st printing 1996. See "Chapter 12: With the Eunuch Priests."

93 Apuleios, The Golden Ass, VIII 26.

94 Apuleios, The Golden Ass, VIII 27-28.

95 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, III 1.3. Greek text from J.P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 8, col. 1104: "... tôn en ethnesin akratestatôn akolastoteron biountes ...," "... tôn mê biountôn orthôs Basileidianôn, hôs hêtoi exontôn exousian kai tou hamartein dia tên teleiotêta ... epei mêde tauta autois prattein sugchôrousin hoi propatores tôn dogmatôn." The translation is based on that of John Ernest Leonard Oulton and Henry Chadwick as "On Marriage. Miscellanies Book III" in Alexandrian Christianity: Selected Translations of Clement and Origen, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954, p. 41. I have corrected their translation where I felt it was necessary in order to render the original more literally.

96 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, III 1.1. Greek: "Ou pantes chôrousi ton logon touton. eisi gar eunouchoi hoi men ek genetês, hoi de ex anagkês."

97 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, III 1.1. Greek: "Phusikên tines echousi pros gunaika apostrophên ek genetês, hoitines, tê phusikê tautê sugkrasei chrômenoi, kalôs poiousi mê gamountes. Houtoi, phasin, eisin hoi ek genetês eunouchoi. Hoi de ex anagkês, ekeinoi hoi theatrikoi askêtai, hoitines dia tên antholkên tês eudoxias kratousin heautôn. Hoi de ek tetmêmenoi kata sumphoran eunouchoi gegonasi kata anagkên."

98 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, III 1.1. Greek: "Hoi de eneka tês aiôniou basileias eunouchisantes heautous, dia ta ek tou gamou, phasi, sumbainonta, ton epilogismon touton lambanousin, tên peri ton porismon tôn epitêdeiôn ascholian dediotes."

99 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, III 1.2-3. Greek: "Alla neos tis estin, ê penês, ê katôpherês, kai ou thelei gêmai kata ton logon, houtos tou adelphou mê chôrizesthô. legetô, hoti Eiselêlutha egô eis ta agia, ouden dunamai pathein. Ean de huponoian echê, eipatô, 'Adelphe, epithes moi tên cheira, ina mê hamartêsô. kai lêpsetai boêtheian, kai noêtên kai aisthêtên. thelêsatô monon apartêsai to kalon, kai epiteuxetai. Eniote de tô men stomati legomen, Ou thelomen hamartêsai, hê de dianoia egkeitai epi ton hamartanein. Ho toioutous dia phobon ou poiei ho thelei, ina mê hê kolasis autô ellogisthê. Hê de anthrôpotês echei tina anagkaia kai phusika mona. phusikon de to tôn aphrodisiôn, ouk anagkaion de." John Ferguson says Isidore was the son of Basilides. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis I-III, tr. John Ferguson, Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1991, p. 257, note 4.

100 Aelian, Various Histories, XII 1. Greek: "Chronô de husteron Têridatês ho eunouchos apothnêskei, kallistos tôn en tê Asia kai hôraiotatos genomenos. katestrepse de ara houtos ton bion meirakioumenos kai ek tês paidikês hêlikias anatrechôn, elegeto de autou eran ho basileus andreiotata. ek dê toutôn epenthei barutata kai drimutata êlgei kai dêmosia kata pasan tên Asian penthos ên, charisomenôn apantôn basilei touto."

101 John Boswell provided a photograph of a statue of Antinous in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980, plate 3.

102 Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, III 9.1. Latin: "... facient eunuchos vel viros sine semine et qui coire non possint, turpes, infames, impuros, impudicos, cinaedos."

103 Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, III 6.22. Latin: "... faciet eunuchos aut abscisos archigallos aut hermafroditos, et qui semper haec agunt et patiuntur quae mulieres pati consueverunt praeposteris libidinem ardoribus excitati." Translation based on that of Jean Rhys Bram (see note 43).

104 Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, V 2.11. Latin: "... faciet impuros, impudicos, sordidos, et miserae libidinis vitiis implicatos, et qui ad naturales coitus venire non possint, sed qui contra naturam praepostero libidinis furore rapiantur."

105 Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, VIII 7.1-3. Translation in Bram, p. 274.

106 See Stephen O. Murray, "Chapter 13: Some Nineteenth Century Reports of Islamic Homosexualities," and "Chapter 16: The Sohari Khanith" in Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe, Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, Literature, New York: New York University Press, 1997. Chapter 16 is more specifically about a homosexual role based on identity, as opposed to just the activity of homosexuality.

107 Sahih al-Bukhari LXII 6:9 and 8:13.

108 Qur'an 7:81, 26:165-166, 27:55. For more discussion of Islam, homosexuality and eunuchs, see my article on Queer Sexual Identity in the Qur'an and Hadith.

109 Qur'an 42:49-50. English: "To Allah belongs the dominion over the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He prepares for whom He wills females, and He prepares for whom He wills males. Or He marries together the males and the females, and He makes those whom He wills to be ineffectual. Indeed He is the Knowing, the Powerful."  These two verses 49 and 50 have usually been interpreted in English translations to mean that God bestows daughters or sons on whom He wills and gives some people both sons and daughters, while leaving others barren. But there is a problem with this interpretation in that the word for marriage or pairing up is used in the second verse. When familes have boys and girls, the boys and girls do not usually arrive in pairs! I believe this verse is describing the varieties of sexual orientation and gender, which Allah, the All-Powerful, creates as Allah wishes. Or it could be referring to the male and female companions who will attend on the believers in Paradise, which implies in itself an admission of homoerotic desire.

110 Qur'an 24:31. Arabic: "... tabi'ina ghair ula il-irbati min ar-rijali ..."

111 Qur'an 6:164, 17:15, 35:18, 39:7, 53:38.