'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

25 September 2010

Eunuchs and Castrati

The emotive word 'eunuch' usually refers to a man or boy who was a harem attendant or a functionary in certain Asian courts and was derived from the Greek word eunoukhos, 'a castrated person employed to take charge of the women of a harem and act as chamberlain.' The Greek word is derived from eun, 'bed,' and ekhein, 'to keep'  Usually castration involves the removal of the testes before puberty thus preventing the physical changes of manhood; muscle mass never develops, the voice never deepens, the penis never grows larger, hence mostly useless as a sex organ, and facial and body hair does not develop.  The eunuch is likely to put on weight like a female, develop a thin layer of  fat under soft skin, and have extra weight around the hips and the stomach.  "Male Pattern Baldness" does not develop and they may live ten to fifteen years longer than other males.  He would face the problems of depression, as well as the threat of osteoporosis in older age. The term usually identified now for the pre-pubescent eunuch is the castrato. A male castrated after puberty will already have all of the secondary sexual characteristics of a man and will be indistinguishable from any other except for a lack of testes but he would experience "hot flushes" as his body withdraws from the hormone testosterone.  Another difference in the Castrato/Eunuch is, according to a modern day eunuch, a total lack of interest in sex although some, especially those castrated after puberty, sometimes retained their sex drive and the ability to achieve a long-lasting but orgasm-less erection.
The process for creating a eunuch remained relatively unchanged. The boy or man was strapped spread-eagled to a table. A thin cord was knotted tightly around his genitals, and, with a sharp razor, the organs were amputated. The wound was then cauterised by the application of either a red-hot poker or molten tar. He was deprived of water for several days to prevent urination, which could cause infection. Then he was forced to drink enormous amounts of water, until the pressure in his bladder punctured a hole in the layers of scar tissue. The fatality rate was as high as 90 %.Chinese eunuchs often also had their penis as well as there testicles, completely "shaved off", which was considered more effective. Using only hot chilli sauce as a local anaesthetic, the Chinese operation was one swoop, using a small, curved knife.
The custom of employing eunuchs in royal households is ancient. In Egypt the term was applied to any court official, castrated or not. Their power, influence and courage is amply shown in the histories of Iran, India, and China, where they were often involved in public affairs. In China the practice of using castrated men as guardians of the emperor's Inner court began over 2,000 years ago. Aside from the emperor, eunuchs were generally the only men allowed in the inner courtyards of the palace, where the women and harem lived. All other men left the palace at night. The employment of eunuchs reached its height in the courts of the Byzantine emperors at Constantinople, from whom the Ottoman sultans adopted the practice. Eunuchs often rose to high positions. Muslim rulers employed eunuchs mainly as harem officials but this was far less common than is generally believed; however, the sale of young males to be eunuchs was an important element of African trade. The voluntary practice of castration for religious celibacy appeared early in Christian history particularly in the third century, but it was not officially approved of by the church and was eventually denounced, however from Constantinople spread the custom of using eunuchs in choirs. In the opera seria of the eighteenth century the male heroes' roles were sung by castrati, and the papal choir used castrati until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

‘...neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.’ Isaiah 56:3b-5
King Ashurnasirpal II and a eunuch, the "beardless one," carrying a fly whisk and a ladle.

History and the Eunuch

In Egyptian creation stories the first god is the male and female Atum who divides and creates Shu and Tefnut who in turn produce Geb and Nut. Finally they produce two pairs, Isis, the reproductive female, and Osiris, the reproductive male, and also Seth, the nonreproductive eunuch (who represented the dry desert), and Nephthys, the unmarried virgin who did not associate with men. Seth followed after Osiris and eventually murdered him and then had sex with Osiris' son Horus who catches Seth's ejaculation in his hand and brings the semen to Isis who sprinkles it on a lettuce, which Seth eats. They appear before the judges to determine primacy among the gods. Seth tells the judges to call to the semen and to his surprise, the semen responds from his own belly. Seth is disgraced and Horus assumes the role as prime archetypal being. Pottery from Thebes from 2000-1800 BCE, contain a listing of three genders of humanity: males, eunuchs, and females.

Semiramis (founder of Babylon) had intercourse with her most attractive generals and then sent them to the chopping block, not to cut off their heads, but their penises. Semiramis was killed by a eunuch at her son's behest -Tarquin the Proud, an Etruscan king of the 6th century BCE, used to castrate children to satisfy his desires.

Narses (478–573): Byzantine administrator, general, and palace eunuch in Constantinople. He assisted in the suppression of the Nika insurrection (532) by bribing the Blues of the Circus to return their allegiance to Justinian I. In 538 he was sent to Italy to help or spy upon Belisarius; their dissensions delayed the campaign, and he was recalled. After the recall of Belisarius, Narses returned to Italy in 552 and defeated the Goth, Tortila, and recaptured Rome. He defeated an army of Franks and Alemanni at Capua in 554. He was subsequently appointed prefect of Italy, but his administration was extremely unpopular and finally Justinian's successor, Justin II, recalled him in 567.

In Sardis, from around 600 BC, attractive boys and young men were castrated to satisfy the lusts of wealthy customers throughout the Mediterranean. These boys were called ektomias,  "the ones who are cut." This practice had become widespread by the beginning of the Roman empire. Seneca said lust "castrates scads of boys."  Nero castrated a boy and "married" him in a bizarre ceremony. Juvenal stated "never was an ugly youth cruelly castrated in the palace of a tyrant."

King Herod was very fond of his eunuchs because of their beauty. The king's son Alexander was continually plotting against him, someone told the king that the eunuchs had been corrupted with money by Alexander. When they were asked about it, they admitted having sex with Alexander, but denied any plot.

Eunuch Lord - Glorious Lord of Wisdom - Great Black Eunuch (Tibetan):  the body emanation of Mahakala and lord of all wisdom and oath-bound worldly protectors of the Nyingma Tradition.  “…Glorious Lord of Pristine Awareness, Black Eunuch, with a body blue-black in colour, one face and two hands. Holding aloft in the right, pointed to the sky, a flaming lance, and in the left a poisoned heart and lasso. With three round red eyes, a curled tongue and hanging black snakes for hair. Having a crown of five dry skulls and a necklace of fifty fresh. Adorned with a garland of hearts and piles of snakes, dressed in silk cloaks, black and layered. Having a gold belt and a girdle of fresh human skin. From the three doors of a great stick of sandalwood, fastened at the waist, an army of snakes is dispersed. Decorated with varieties of colourful flowing streamers and all the frightful ornaments. Standing with the left leg extended atop a corpse seat…”

In the Muslim world eunuchs guarded the Prophet's tomb in Medinah as early as the 12th century CE and perhaps earlier.

Cheng Ho, or Zheng He, (click image) was born in Kunyang, Yunnan province, China, in 1371. He was captured and sent to the Chinese army in 1382 where he helped Chu Ti become Emperor Yonglo of the Ming Dynasty. In thanks, he was made Grand Imperial Eunuch and his name was changed to Zheng He. He headed a series of naval expeditions all over the Indian Ocean. Zheng had diplomatic, scientific, and commercial goals, while travelling farther than any other admiral in history at the time. He visited more than 35 countries during his voyages. Zheng took more than 100 ships and about 28,000 men in his Grand Fleet. The largest vessels were longer than all of Columbus’ ships put end to end. By the seventh and last voyage, Zheng had been to east Africa, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, and Ceylon. He set up diplomatic relations in all the countries he visited and received tribute. When in Ceylon, Zheng helped restore the legitimate ruler to the throne. In Indonesia, the fleet defeated a powerful Chinese pirate who was later brought back to China for execution. Zheng’s voyages not only established Chinese trade routes throughout Asia and Africa, but also established China as the dominant power and  most technologically advanced culture in the known world. He died during a trip home from India and China banned all further expeditions.

Li Lianyang; Imperial Eunuch of China accumulated vast influence as the, favourite eunuch of the Empress Dowager Cixi, who climbed from a concubine third-grade to become ruler of China for 40 years in the.19th century. Li headed an Imperial staff of thousands of cooks, gardeners, laundrymen, cleaners, painters and other eunuchs, who were classified in a complex hierarchy of 48 separate grades. Though eunuchs were generally illiterate, Li Lianyang, could read enough to wield influence over officials.

The Last Eunuch Sun Yaoting:Click Photo. China's last imperial eunuch died at 93  in 1996 in a Beijing temple after a life spanning the end of an dynasty and a Communist revolution. Only months after his family had him castrated in1911, the Manchu Dynasty, which had ruled China since the early1660's' was overthrown. Mr. Sun continued to serve Pu-Yi, for a decade. The parts removed, called the 'precious,' are prepared and kept in common pint jars, hermetically sealed, and placed on a high shelf. Should a eunuch be promoted he has to show the 'precious' to the chief eunuch or he cannot obtain his rank. When he dies, they are placed in the coffin and buried with him, because he wishes to be as complete as possible when departing into another world  to allow reincarnation as a whole man. During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Sun's family destroyed his 'precious'.

The Ethiopian Eunuch: the first non Jewish Christian ‘And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise and go toward the south, unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went, and behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot reading Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself unto this chariot. And Philip ran hither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias and said; Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away, and who shall speak of his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water. What doth hinder me from being baptised? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.’ Acts 8:26-3

Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘one of the eunuchs which was in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon, the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin; Ebed-melech went forth out of the king's house, and spake to the king, saying, My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is likely to die of hunger in the place where he is, for there is no more bread in the city.’ The eunuch saved Jeremiah ‘... Now the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Go speak to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good, and they shall be accomplished in that day before thee. But I will deliver thee in that day, saith the LORD; and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid. For I will surely deliver thee ... because thou hast put thy trust in me, saith the LORD.’ Jeremiah 38:6-13, 39:15-18

The Singing Castrati

Click to Enlarge
A group of castrati who left England in the late 1800s and moved to Australia

Castrati first appeared in the late sixteenth century in Spain, but the practice of castration to obtain fine voices took root mainly in Italy, where it remained until the mid-nineteenth century. Pope Clement VIII admired the castrati, who first appeared in the Vatican in 1599. Often from poor families and sometimes under the pretext of an accident, the boy was drugged with opium, immersed in a warm bath until he became insensible; then the ducts leading to the testes were severed. Castrati were basically employed as substitutes for boys to sing the high parts in sacred music, but, with the development of Italian opera in the second half of the seventeenth century, a new career opened up.

CARLO BROSCHI (1705 - 1782) Click Pic
Castrated for art, Farinelli became the most famous singer of his time and one of the greatest singers ever.  His exceptional voice and  beauty raised him to mythical super star status. ‘The Divine Farinelli’  had a voice of great beauty purity, control and agility. His range exceeded three and a half octaves.  He was renowned for his  ability to sing two hundred and fifty notes with a single breath and to sustain a note for more than a minute. He soon avoided compositions which merely showed off his range and preferred pieces which were more restrained and purer. His reputation continued after his retirement and to this day.
Carlo Broschi was born in 1705 in Andrea, Naples. He belonged to a minor noble family and his father, Salvatore, was governor of  Maratea and Cisternino from 1706 to 1709. He had one brother, Riccardo,  eight years older, who composed several operas for him. He was castrated around the ages of seven or eight, and became a pupil of the famous Italian composer and singing teacher, Nicola Porpora, who was considered to be one of the most important music teachers of all time. A prodigy of the Farina brothers he adopted the stage name Farinelli. The claim that his brother Riccardo was responsible for his castration is unlikely. It was more likey his father who had him castrated. In 1720 he made his first public appearance at the age of fifteen, at the Palace of the Prince of Torella in an opera written by his teacher Porpora. He made his name first in Naples, then Rome and Bologna. His first performance in Venice was in 1728, receiving a rapturous reception. By the age of twenty-three he was performing at all the main European courts, even for King Louis XV of France  for which he received a rare and distinguished honour: a portrait of the King embossed with diamonds, and a fee of 500 livres.
When he performed at Popora's theatre he was also regarded as extremely important by the English theatre going public. He was offered 1,500 livres a season and was also given numerous presents. Despite his success the rivalry  Theatre put Farinelli under considerable pressure and encouraged him to go to Spain - so at the height of this glory, the thirty two year old star decided to retire from public performance to sing for King Philip V of Spain. The King’s depression had been cured by hearing him and he was so affected that the young man decided to devote his life to the King for two decades.  He is said to have sung the same four arias to him each evening to relieve the King's melancholy. He soon became Private Counsellor to the King, received foreign guests, reorganised the Madrid Opera, and directed music at the royal chapel. In 1750, he was knighted in the order of Calatrava. His influence is said to have extended to matters of politics and foreign affairs. He then served Ferdinand VI and with the accession of Charles III in 1759,he was granted a generous pension but asked to leave Spain. He settled in Bologna where he lived a life devoted to spiritual exercise, music and receiving illustrious guests such as the composers Mozart and Gluck as well as the Emperor Joseph II.  He was said to be humble and generous. He helped poor Spanish families and founded an institute to organize concerts to raise money for orphans. Before his death, he gave all his belongings to his nephews and servants. I keeping with this later humility Farinelli wrote in his will “When I am dead, I want my miserable corpse to be wrapped in  the mantle of the Order of Calatrava, according to what is prescribed  by the Constitutions of said  Royal Military Order and to be buried without pomp with the accompaniment of poor  in the number of fifty, each one holding a wax candle in the hand, and each of said poor to be given a coin everyone after having accompanied my corpse to the church of the Cappuccini Fathers, where I fix my burial place.“ 

His death certificate is dated 15th or 17th September 1782 (being in an old dating system) and he had purchased and  arranged for his burial in the Chiesa dei Cappuccini on Monte Calvario  at San Michele in Bosco. Napoleon's armies destroyed the Church of S.Croce and the cloister became a part of a villa. All trace of his tomb was often said to be lost, but it appears that his tomb exists in the Portico del Campo Maggiore. I have some confusion with the assortments of place names so I may need correction.
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4 of 14 photographs of the excavation in 2006 of the tomb of Farinelli in the cemetery "Certosa" of Bologna. The photos were kindly sent to me by the photographer from Eikon Studio Bologna-Italy.

He had a lifetime friendship with a man known as Metastasio, but the  relationship between the two is unknown for the most part.  Metastasio was a poet and quite taken with Farinelli as the singer was taken with him.  They often called each other "twin".
Farinelli meditated and prayed daily and even had a chapel built in his home after he retired.  He was a very modest person, he would only perform for friends and visitors after they insisted.  He would also never ask a visiting young castrato to perform unless they insisted.  Carlo was polite  and extremely kind.  He was pleased that in his life he was able to have harmed nobody.  A peaceful, beautiful eunuch, Carlo Broschi was truly the "Divine Farinelli".

Other Castrati

Caffarelli (born Gaetano Majorano) (1710-1783): One of the most famous castrati of all time he was a bombastic and quarrelsome man who spent time in goal, became very rich and bought a dukedom and two palaces!

Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (1736-1800): mezzo-soprano remembered because he eloped and married a girl from an influential Irish family, and was thrown in gaol. Mozart wrote a song for him.

Siface (1653-1697): got his name from his role in Cavalli’s opera Scipione Africano. He was admired by Purcell, who wrote a lament for his English farewell. He was ambushed and murdered by a jealous husband.

Gaetano Guadagni (1725-1792): contralto then soprano castrato who was a favourite of Handel who wrote "But who may abide" and "Thou art gone up on high" for him, in the "Messiah." as well as Samson. He also created the title role in Gluck’s Orfeo.

Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810): Castrato composer and teacher, as was his brother Matteo. After singing throughout Europe he settled in England in 1744, living in Bath where he is buried; His operas were performed in London and Munich. He premiered Mozart’s Lucio Silla and Mozart’s famous motet, "Exultate, jubilate" was written for him.

Giovanni Battista Velluti (1780-1861): the last great powerful voiced operatic castrato. He had three sets of embellishments for his show-piece arias, as Rossini found, when Velluti sang in "Aureliano in Palmira." Historically Giacomo Meyerbeer was the last operatic composer of importance to write for the male soprano voice. Velutti delighted in astounding audiences with his dazzling coloratura technique, vocal prowess and outrageous attire; a singing Liberace of his age. For London Meyerbeer wrote ‘Il Crociato in Egitto’ for Velluti. Maria Malibran replaced the famous actress Madame Vestris, who refused to sing because she detested being on the same stage as Velluti. Castrati were no longer popular in London. Some people looked on him as a freak, though an excellent singer, his voice took on a harsh quality at time resembling a 'peacock's scream'.

Pergetti: the last castrato to appear in England, on the concert platform, in 1844;

The church castrati survived longer, in the Catholic Church and the only one alive in the dawn of the recording age and young enough to perform was-
Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922):
Prof. Moreschi was born in Montecompatrio (near Rome) and died in Rome, where he was the last castrato and also conductor at the Cappella Sistina from 1883-98. When he began his studies in 1871 it was already difficult to find a teacher. In 1914 Franz Habock's plan of a "Farinelli revival" failed as his range had become too low. He sang liturgical music only. He was the only castrato to make records, which he did in 1902 and 1904. The 17 old acoustic recordings can only give an impression, which is not that good, but still remarkable as an historic document of a style which you will find no where else.. He was in his forties at the time. He sang in the Vatican under Leo XIII who had banned the practice in 1878. The CD  'Alesandro Moreschi 'THE LAST CASTRATO'  is available. 

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