If you ask most men if they’d like to live another twenty years most would say yes.
Or would they?
In a recent edition of Current Biology, a study of 81 court eunuchs from Korea’s Chosun Dynasty between 1392 and 1910 found that they lived on average 23 years longer than men who had all their bits. The eunuchs lived to an average age of 70 years; while the kings who employed them loved for a median of only 47 years.
Researchers tried to ascertain why this should be so; they ruled out the privileged lifestyle at court. Most of the eunuchs actually lived outside the palace and only spent time there when on duty, serving as guards and servants for the royal harem.
They concluded that it must be that testosterone thing again.
Apparently this mouthy and in your face little chemical weakens the immune system and increases the likelihood of heart disease. It also makes you drive faster and get in bar fights and adds to a man’s propensity to go out with bad blondes – and once you start doing that boy, you better make sure your will’s in order.
But before you go rushing out looking for a couple of bricks, best consider the consequences of this kind of longevity. I wrote at some length about eunuchs in my novel, HAREM, which required me to learn more about eunuchs and methods of castration that I ever wanted to know.
One of the most telling parts of the research was an interview with a former palace eunuch that I came across in a transcript from the nineteen twenties. Even into old age he grieved for what had been done to him. He said that although he had lost the physical means of making love to a woman, he never lost the psychological longing.
His inner torment lent one of my characters, Abbas, a tragic shadow self that I had not originally anticipated.
Often eunuchs rose to positions of great power because of their condition; as they did not have a family of their own (having neither children nor in-laws), they were regarded as trustworthy because they would be less interested in establishing a private ‘dynasty’.
They often accrued vast wealth through their influence. In fact, poor families sometimes had their young male children castrated purely to win them entrance into the corridors of power. They looked on it as giving them a start in life.
(Be grateful your parents didn’t go further than getting you a college fund.)
The Ottoman court had two categories of eunuch: Black Eunuchs and White Eunuchs. Black Eunuchs were Africans who served the concubines and officials in the Harem and were completely ‘razored’. Most were created at a Coptic monastery on Mount Ghebel Eter in Egypt. The boys were captured from Abyssinia and were usually around 8 years old when they were subjected to an operation so brutal I’ll spare you the details.
But if I tell you the survival rate was ten percent, you’ll understand the barbarity of it.
If they did survive they could rise to pre-eminent power inside the Ottoman system. The Chief Black Eunuch was in control of the entire Harem and was perfectly placed to cultivate a net of spies that involved him in almost every palace intrigue, often gaining him power and influence over the Grand Vizier or even the Sultan himself.
The White Eunuchs were Europeans from the Balkans and were only partly castrated. From 1582 on they were prohibited from entering the Harem, (and in my novel you will see why.)
In China castration was also a means of gaining entry into the Imperial service. At the end of the Ming Dynasty the emperor owned no less than 70,000 eunuchs. Thankfully, by 1912 the number had fallen to around 500. The last surviving Imperial eunuch, Sun Yaoting, died as recently as December 1996.
But politics and power is not the only reason behind castration. Children castrated before puberty often get to keep their singing voice. Unfortunately the decision to have the operation has to be made at an age when the boy doesn’t realize what he is giving up.
The practice has thankfully died out; though it seems to me Justin Beiber’s done his best to keep it going, in principle at least.
I know what you’re going to ask, so I checked. He was 64.
So much for longevity! Big Al was ripped off.
Cool Gus Publishing is currently doing a double-whammy Goodreads Giveway. First up is Duty, Honor, Country A Novel of West Point to the Civil War by Bob Mayer. Did you know that of 60 battles in the Civil War, 55 were commanded by West Point Graduates on BOTH sides?
by Bob Mayer
Giveaway ends October 20, 2012.
See the giveaway details
The second giveaway is The Naked Husband by Colin Falconer. The Naked Husband was released through Nook First and went all the way to the top #20 of the bestseller list.