The Language of Gender

in The Perfect Servant

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2004 | ISBN: 9780226720159
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720166 | DOI:
The Language of Gender

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter looks at the ways in which Byzantine culture talked about eunuchs. It was in the early period in Byzantine history that eunuchs were most often classified by their contemporaries as a distinct “third” sex, a term which does not carry the same meaning as gender in this context. The Byzantine world was clearly uncomfortable with eunuchs because they did not fit into well-defined categories. Nevertheless, it recognized that ambiguous appearance and behavior, which would not have been tolerated in a whole man, facilitated the successful playing out of the social roles to which eunuchs were assigned. There is a linguistic tradition which supports the idea that eunuchs were perceived as an artificial creation that belonged to the realm of culture rather than to the realm of nature. This idea is apparent in the second-century writings of Lucian, who says that eunuchs are composite or contrived; that they are wonders, marvels, portents, and prodigies, and that they exist outside of human nature. The author of this book believes that eunuchs were perceived by their contemporaries as invented beings, modified by humans to fill specific roles in a highly cultured and stratified society, and thus outside the realm of nature.

Keywords: third sex; Byzantine culture; eunuchs; Lucian; human nature; stratified society

Chapter.  8513 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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