Byzantine Medical Lore and the Gendering of Eunuchs

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:
Byzantine Medical Lore and the Gendering of Eunuchs

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter focuses on Byzantine medical lore and the gendering of eunuchs. Byzantium had a rich tradition of medical lore to draw upon, and the chapter begins with a discussion of some of the basic assumptions made by the medical communities of the classical and Byzantine worlds. Most of the medical lore and practice of the Byzantine world was based on the teachings of Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen, with a smattering of ideas from the Methodist school. Despite the popularity of Galen's teachings, however, Byzantine medical authorities were also familiar with the writings of Aristotle, writings of the fourth century bc that were reworked throughout Late Antiquity and beyond. The Hippocratic writings stressed the importance of balance and harmony in the human body. Aristotle acknowledged the importance of balance and moderation in the human body but tended to look at gender in terms of hierarchical structures, not polar opposites. Galen taught that “the bodies of eunuchs, women, and children are similar in that, because of their nature or habit they are soft and moist, not hard and dry.” Late Antique and Byzantine sources often mention the way eunuchs, while beautiful as boys, “fade” like roses at a relatively young age.

Keywords: medical lore; eunuchs; Aristotle; hippocrates; Galen; hippocratic writings

Chapter.  7440 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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