The manly eunuchs of late antique Egypt

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Abstract

The figure of the eunuch has gained increasing popularity in recent scholarship, not least because of the insights it can provide into conceptions of gender and the body in the ancient world. Yet despite this growing interest, little attention has been paid to the eunuchs of late antique Egypt. This paper will examine the writings of Justin, Origen, Clement, and Shenoute in order to offer some insight into late antique Christian discourse on gender and the body in Egypt. My point of departure is Matthew Kuefler’s seminal work The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity. In it, Kuefler suggests that the challenge for Christian authors was to transform the eunuch into a symbol of masculinity. Kuefler’s research is restricted to a consideration of the western authors, but I would like to suggest that his thesis rings true for Christian authors writing in Egypt as well. I will argue that these authors challenged the Roman conception of the eunuch as “effeminate” by emphasising the “manliness” of the eunuch and recasting him variously as a soldier, a father, or a symbol of immense self-control. However, this is only half the story. These same authors embraced the well-known stereotype of the effeminate eunuch when it suited their purposes, particularly when they sought to discourage self-castration. We see preserved in our sources this strange rhetoric of dichotomies – the masculine and feminine, moral and immoral, godly and ungodly – all of which exist in tension in the complex figure of the eunuch.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFourth Australasian Egyptology conference
Subtitle of host publicationabstracts
PublisherMonash University Publishing
Pages12
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventFourth Australasian Egyptology Conference - Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 16 Sep 201618 Sep 2016
http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/australasian-egyptology-4/

Conference

ConferenceFourth Australasian Egyptology Conference
CountryAustralia
CityMelbourne
Period16/09/1618/09/16
Internet address

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