Original Research

Eunuchs in classical mythology and society

F. P. Retief, J. F.G. Cilliers
Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie | Vol 21, No 4 | a237 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/satnt.v21i4.237 | © 2002 F. P. Retief, J. F.G. Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 September 2002 | Published: 28 September 2002

About the author(s)

F. P. Retief, Navorsingsgenoot, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, South Africa
J. F.G. Cilliers, Departement Engels en Klassieke Kultuur, Universiteit van die Vrystaat, South Africa

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The term eunuch is defined as referring to a castrated person (usually a male) and differentiated from the so-called “congenital eunuch” where hypogonadism is due to gonadal dysfunction from birth. The origins of human castration in creational mythology and castration for religious reasons as part of myths regarding goddesses of earth and fertility are reviewed. Ancient cults involving castrated priests serving goddesses like Cybele, Hecate, Atargatis-Dea, Astarte, Artemis and Innana-Ishtar are described and their later influence on Greece and Rome detailed. Human castration for non-religious socio-economic considerations arose in the Middle East during the 2nd millennium BC and probably reached Greece in the 5th century BC and Rome two centuries later. The role and influence of eunuchs in Classical times are reviewed.


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