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XANTHUS OF LYDIA AND THE INVENTION OF FEMALE EUNUCHS*

  • Lydia Matthews (a1)
Abstract

Two fragments of the Lydiaca attributed to Xanthus of Lydia (mid fifth century b.c.) preserve a curious claim that a king of Lydia (either the famous Gyges or the mythical Adramytes) was the first person to make eunuchs of women. In an attempt to make sense of these passages, it has been suggested that εὐνουχίζειν here refers not to castration, but rather to female genital cutting. If correct, this would provide our first evidence of this practice in Lydian culture or indeed anywhere in Anatolia. However, the assumption that what Xanthus describes somehow related to real practices is highly questionable. Instead, we should re-contextualize this story in terms of other fifth-century representations of luxury and eunuchs and in terms of Xanthus’ own exemplary portraits of other Lydian kings.

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lydia.matthews@oriel.ox.ac.uk
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This piece benefitted greatly from the suggestions made by CQ's anonymous reviewer and the advice and information provided by Aneurin Ellis-Evans, Josephine Crawley Quinn, Jan Haywood and Kate Cooper.

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1 FGrHist 765 F4a.

2 On the Xanthus lemma see F. Gazzano, ‘Xanto di Lidia nel Lessico Suda’, in G. Vanotti (ed.), Gli storici greci in frammenti e il Lessico Suda. Atti dell'Incontro Internazionale di studio (Tivoli, 2011), 97–128.

3 FGrHist 765 F4b = Suda s.v. Ξάνθος.

4 For early Christians women as well as men could be ‘eunuchs’; however, this described a spiritual, rather than physical, state. See M. Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago, 2001), 268; P. Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York, 1988), 66–9.

5 Gal. De Semine 2.1.22. Cf. V. Bullough, ‘Eunuchs in history and society’, in S. Tougher (ed.), Eunuchs in Antiquity and Beyond (Swansea, 2002), 1–18, at 1–4.

6 Huebner S., ‘Female circumcision as a rite de passage in Egypt—continuity through the millennia?’, Journal of Egyptian History 2 (2009), 149–71, at 158; J. Rowlandson, Women and Society in Greek and Roman Egypt (Cambridge, 1998), 100.

7 UPZ I 2.9-15; Diod. Sic. 3.32.4-3.33.1; Strabo 16.2.37; 16.4.9; 16.4.17; 17.2.5; Philo, Quaestiones in Genesim 3.47.

8 Mustio 2.76; Caelius Aurelianus, Gynaecia 2.112; Paul of Aegina, De Re Medica 6.70; Aetius of Amida, Iatricorum Liber 16.115; ps.-Gal. Introductio sive Medicus 10.9.10.

9 περιτέμνειν: UPZ I 2.9-22. ἐκτέμνειν: Paul of Aegina, De Re Medica 6.70; ps.-Gal. Introductio sive Medicus 10.9.10; Strabo 16.2.5, 16.2.37, 16.4.9.

10 Examples contemporary with Xanthus include Hdt. 3.48.6, 3.49.7, 3.92.3; 6.9.23.

11 However, we need not presume that they had access to Xanthus’ complete Lydiaca; it is more likely that they were working with a collection of quotations.

12 J. Wilkins, ‘Galen and Athenaeus in the Hellenistic library’, in J. König and T. Whitmarsh (edd.), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire (Cambridge, 2007), 69–87.

13 The Jews must be counted under ‘the Syrians of Palestine’. See A. Lloyd, Herodotus Book II (Leiden, 1988), at 23.

14 J. DeMeo, ‘The geography of male and female genital mutilations’, in G. Denniston and M. Milos (edd.), Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy (New York, 1997), 1–16, at 8.

15 Devereux G., ‘Xanthus and the problem of female eunuchs in Lydia’, RhM 124 (1981), 104–7. Knight M., ‘Curing cut or ritual mutilation? Some remarks on the practice of female and male circumcision in Graeco-Roman Egypt’, Isis 92 (2001), 317–38, at 326 likewise interprets these passages as referring to sterilization.

16 Devereux (n. 15), 103.

17 Bullough (n. 5), 4.

18 See Dale A., ‘Alcaeus on the career of Myrsilos: Greeks, Lydians and Luwians at the East Aegean–West Anatolian interface’, JHS 131 (2011), 1524 , at 18.

19 FGrHist 765 T2 = Strabo 13.4.9. On Xanthus and Sardis see A. Mehl, ‘Xanto il Lido, i suoi Lydiaka e la Lidia’, in M. Giorgieri, M. Salvini, M.-C. Tremouille, P. Vannicelli (edd.), Licia e Lidia prima dell'ellenizzazione (Rome, 2003), 239–63, at 244.

20 FGrHist 765 T4 = Dion. Hal. Thuc. 5. On the date of Xanthus see Mehl (n. 19), 241–6; A. Mehl, ‘Herodotus and Xanthus of Sardis compared’, in V. Karageorghis and I. Taifacos (edd.), The World of Herodotus (Nicosia, 2004), 337–49; Kingsley P., ‘Meetings with Magi: Iranian themes among the Greeks, from Xanthus of Lydia to Plato's Academy’, JRAS 3.5.2 (1995), 173209 .

21 Hdt. 1.146. It is possible that Herodotus himself was the product of the sort of cultural hybridity that characterized the populations of this region. The names of Herodotus’ father and uncle (or cousin) recorded in the Suda, Lyxes and Panyassis, are Carian rather than Greek (Suda s.v. Ἡρόδοτος and Πανύασις). We should be cautious, however, in placing too much trust in these later biographical traditions. On Greek/Lydian connections see M. Kerschner, ‘The Lydians and their Ionian and Aiolian neighbours/Lidyalıların Komşuları İyonyalılar ve Aiolia'lılar’, in N. Cahill (ed.), The Lydians and their World/Lidyalılar ve Dünyaları (Istanbul, 2010), 247–65. Sappho, for example, describes a Greek girl who has moved away and now ‘stands out amongst Lydian women’ (F96 V.).

22 I. Ephesus 2 = SEG 36.1011. E. Dunisberre, Aspects of Empire in Achaemenid Sardis (Cambridge, 2003), 121. Whether or not this is evidence for intermarriage between Greeks, Lydians and Persians in Achaemenid Sardis, the willingness on the part of families to use names from other groups suggests that they did not conceive of Greek, Persian or Lydian identities in exclusive terms.

23 K. Vlassopoulos, Greeks and Barbarians (Cambridge, 2013), 306.

24 On the basis of a fragment of Ephorus (FGrHist 70 F180), where he claims that Xanthus gave Herodotus his ἀφορμαί (‘starting-point’ or ‘source material’), it has been argued (e.g. by Kingsley [n. 20], 175) that Xanthus preceded Herodotus. However, as V. Parker notes in his commentary on this fragment, ‘Ephoros’ statement that Xanthos preceded Herodotos may have rested on Ephoros’ evaluation of that relationship—i.e. need not be based on independent evidence as to Xanthos’ date’. For the affinities between Herodotus and Xanthus see Mehl (n. 20).

25 FGrHist 765 F12 = Strabo 1.3.4.

26 Mehl (n. 19), 241–6.

27 On Adramytes see M. Dorati, ‘Adramys (Intorno a Xanto di Lidia, Fr. 4 Jacoby)’, in F. Benedetti and S. Grandolini (edd.), Studi di Filologia e Tradizione Greca in Memoria di A. Colonna (Naples, 2003), 313–29.

28 Hdt. 1.8-13. D. Asheri, ‘Book I’, in O. Murray and A. Moreno (edd.), A Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV (Oxford, 2007), 57–218, at 81–5.

29 FGrHist 90 F44.6 = Exc. de Insid. p. 10.32.

30 See W. Burkert, ‘Lydia between East and West, or how to date the Trojan War: a study in Herodotus’, in J. Carter and S. Morris (edd.), The Ages of Homer (Austin, TX, 1995), 139–48, at 140.

31 Hdt. 3.48-9; 8.104-6. Sourvinou-Inwood C., ‘“Myth” and History: on Herodotus III. 48 and 50–53’, OAth 17 (1988), 167–82 and S. Hornblower, ‘Panionios of Chios and Hermotimos of Pedasa (Herodotus 8.104-6)’, in P. Derow and R. Parker (edd.), Herodotus and His World (Oxford, 2003), 37–57 have shown that Herodotus’ stories of castration in Lydia were used to remember moments of colonization and forced removal.

32 For recent critiques of the usefulness of E. Said's (Orientalism [New York, 1978]) idea of ‘orientalism’ as a useful way of understanding the representation of foreign cultures in Greek thought and historiography, see I. Moyer, Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism (Cambridge, 2011), 2–10 and Vlassopoulos (n. 23), 161–225 and 321. Vlassopoulos argues that the range of cultural interaction between Greeks and foreigners was more varied, and extended far beyond limited ideas of alterity: conflict was just one of many ways in which Greeks could interpret non-Greek cultures.

33 Sappho F16.17-20; F39; F98a; F132 V.

34 Xenophanes B3 DK = Ath. 12.526a. J. Skinner, The Invention of Greek Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus (Oxford, 2012), 90.

35 Hdt. 1.94.

36 See Kurke L., ‘Kaphleia and deceit: Theognis 59–60’, AJPh 110 (1989), 535–44, at 539.

37 On eunuchs in Greco-Roman society generally see P. Guyot, Eunuchen als Sklaven und Freigelassene in der griechischrömischen Antike (Stuttgart, 1980). On Achaemenid Persia see L. Llewellyn-Jones, ‘Eunuchs and the royal harem in Achaemenid Persia’, in S. Tougher (ed.), Eunuchs in Antiquity and Beyond (Swansea, 2002), 19–49 and P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, trans. P. Daniels (Winona Lake, IN, 2002), 268–77.

38 Hdt. 3.77; 3.130; 7.187; 8.105.

39 Briant (n. 37), 276. For objections to Briant's argument see Lenfant D., ‘Ctesias and his eunuchs: a challenge for modern historians’, Histos 6 (2012), 257–97, at 282.

40 E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition Through Tragedy (Oxford, 1991), 157; Xen. Cyr. 7.5.60-65.

41 Briant (n. 37), 270–2. For the loyalty of eunuchs see also Hdt. 8.105.

42 See D. Gera, Warrior Women: The Anonymous Tractatus de Mulieribus (Leiden, 1997), 8 and 146–8.

43 Amm. Marc. 14.6.17; Claud. In Eutropium 1.339-42; Gera (n. 42), 141–7. See also Artemisia in Hdt. 8.88, where Xerxes remarks οἱ μὲν ἄνδρες γεγόνασί μοι γυναῖκες, αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες ἄνδρες.

44 All fragments of Ctesias’ Persica are referenced according to D. Lenfant's arrangement in the Budé edition, Ctésias de Cnide: La Perse, L'Inde, Autre Fragments (Paris, 2004). Ctesias F1b 6.6 = Diod. Sic. 2.6.6. For the dress of Atossa and Semiramis see Gera (n. 42), 145–6.

45 Ctesias F1b 21.1-2 = Diod. Sic. 2.21.1-2; F1n = Ath. 12.528e-f; F1oα = Euseb. Chron. p. 29.10–26 (Karst). On eunuchs in Ctesias see Lenfant (n. 39) and R. Pirngruber, ‘Eunuchen am Königshof Ktesias und die altorientalische Evidenz’, in J. Wiesehöfer, R. Rollinger and G. Lanfranchi (edd.), Ktesias’ Welt/Ctesias’ World (Wiesbaden, 2011), 279–312.

46 Ctesias F1b 21.8 = Diod. Sic. 2.21-8.

47 Hdt. 2.150 and Ctesias F1pδ = FGrHist 90 F2 (Jacoby did not attribute to Ctesias this fragment of Nicolaus).

48 Ctesias F1b 23.1-3 = Diod. Sic. 2.23.1-3; F1pα = Ath. 12.528f–529a; F1pβ = Arist. Pol. 5.1211b-1312a4; F1pδ = FGrHist 90 F2. Looking specifically at eunuchs in Ctesias, Lenfant (n. 39) has rejected the idea of Ctesias as an orientalizing author, arguing that, for Ctesias at least, eunuchs are seldom connected with sexual pleasure and the harem. In this she differs from Llewellyn-Jones (n. 37), 27, Briant (n. 37), 7 and the evidence presented in our passages, where eunuchs (whether male or female) are clearly to be understood as serving the sexual pleasure of the king.

49 Ctesias F1b 23.4 = Diod. Sic. 2.23.4. See also F1b 24.4 = Diod. Sic. 2.24.4, where the Median general Arbaces was able to observe the weakness of Sardanapallus through the bribery of one of his eunuchs.

50 See for example Tantalus in Pind. Ol. 1, Gyges in Pl. Resp. 2.359a–360d, Croesus in Bacchyl. 3, and Candaules, Gyges and Croesus in Hdt. 1.8-13, 1.91-2.

51 FGrHist 765 F18 = Ath. 10.415c-d.

52 FGrHist 765 F20a = Parth. Amat. narr. 33. See also the story of the cruel Syrian Queen Atargatis, who loved fish so much that she forbade all others to eat it, but ended up as food for the fishes herself: FGrHist 765 F17a = Ath. 8.346e.

53 FGrHist 765 F19 = Suda s.v. Ξάνθος. Alcimus is probably the king called Acimius by Nicolaus (FGrHist 90 F44.10 = Exc. de Insid. p. 10.32). According to the Suda, Alcimus was seven years old when the Lydians offered prayers that ‘such years’ (τοιαῦτα ἔτη) be given to him. This makes no sense if we are to believe that Xanthus meant Alcimus to be seven years old when this took place, and his age here is almost certainly an error. It is more likely that Xanthus wrote either that Alcimus had seven more years to live or that he was seventy at this time.

54 Xanthus’ description of how the Sicilian philosopher Empedocles refused an offer of kingship further continues the theme of good and bad kingship. Unlike bad Lydian kings who are unable to constrain their appetites for food, luxury or impious sexual relations, Empedocles refused to be king because he preferred a simple life (FGrHist 765 F33 = Diog. Laert. 8.63).

55 FGrHist 765 F31 = Clem. Al. Strom. 3.11.1. On this passage see Kingsley (n. 20), 179–81.

56 FGrHist 765 F16 = Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 1.28.2; FGrHist 765 F13a and b = Strabo 12.8.19 and 13.4.11.

* This piece benefitted greatly from the suggestions made by CQ's anonymous reviewer and the advice and information provided by Aneurin Ellis-Evans, Josephine Crawley Quinn, Jan Haywood and Kate Cooper.

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