Conclusion Past and Present Perceptions 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:
Conclusion Past and Present Perceptions of Gender

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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In the broader perspective of this book, the gender construction for eunuchs was founded primarily on what its author has characterized in various places as “perfect service.” This element was, however, closely interlocked with a second trait: the perceived capacity to mediate across otherwise difficult boundaries in the service of masters, patrons, and others that needed assistance. This capacity has shown up at various points in the book but is complex enough to merit a brief direct discussion. Because the eunuch could transcend boundaries, he was usually portrayed as an extension of his master and as a go-between, transmitting crucial information across barriers that his master or mistress could not pass. This was seen most dramatically when eunuchs functioned as surrogates for imperial power. Images that illustrate societal assumptions about eunuchs can readily be found outside of the courtly or hagiographical literary traditions, and appear in popular literature such as the dream book of the patriarch Nikephoros. The author also suggests that eunuchs' gender construct, including the core role as “perfect servant,” is a variant on a much older and widespread model in the ancient and medieval eastern Mediterranean.

Keywords: gender construction; trait; societal assumptions; mediate; Nikephoros; medieval eastern Mediterranean

Chapter.  8030 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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