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eunuch(yo͞o`nĭk) [Gr.,=keeper of the couch], castrated human male, particularly a chamberlain of a harem in Asia. The custom of employing eunuchs as servants in wealthy or royal households is very ancient; it reached its epitome at the court of Constantinople under the Byzantine emperors, from whom the Ottoman sultans adopted it. Eunuchs often rose to high position, the Byzantine general NarsesNarses
, c.478–c.573, Byzantine official and general, one of the eunuchs of the palace. He assisted in the suppression of the Nika riot (532) by bribing the Blues of the Circus (see Blues and Greens) to return their allegiance to Justinian I.
..... Click the link for more information. being the most celebrated example. In the Muslim world the use of eunuchs was far less common than is generally believed; however, the sale of young males to be eunuchs was formerly an important element in African trade. The castrating operation, which retards the development of normal male characteristics, including the deepening of the voice, was performed with varying thoroughness and with varying success. From Constantinople spread the custom of using eunuchs in choirs. In the opera seria (see operaopera,
drama set to music. Characteristics
The libretto may be serious or comic, although neither form necessarily excludes elements of the other. Opera differs from operetta in its musical complexity and usually in its subject matter.
..... Click the link for more information. ) of the 18th cent. the male heroes' roles were sung by castrati, and the papal choir used castrati until the beginning of the 19th cent. A famous castratocastrato
[Ital.,=castrated], a male singer with an artificially created soprano or alto voice, the result of castration in boyhood. The combination of the larynx of a youth and the chest and lungs of a man produced a powerful voice of great range and unique sound.
..... Click the link for more information. was Carlo Broschi FarinelliFarinelli, Carlo Broschi
, 1705–82, Italian male soprano, greatest of the castrati (see castrato), pupil of Niccolò Porpora, in whose operas he sang (1734–37) in London. Farinelli's real name was Carlo Broschi.
..... Click the link for more information. .
a castrated man appointed to oversee a harem. Eunuchs were known among the ancient Assyrians and Persians, in Byzantium, and later among the Turks. Because they were on intimate terms with their masters, eunuchs at the courts of Eastern potentates often attained high standing and became privy councillors in state affairs.