Eunuch characters in fiction

I research how eunuchs (castrated men) are portrayed in literature. I’ve written the following articles to discuss the referenced fiction books. I’ve listed the books with “fantasy” worlds first, and the books with more realistic settings are listed in chronological order of those settings, from earliest to most recent.

Why do fictional symbols matter? “If metaphor is not idle comparison, but an exchange of energy, an event, then it unites the world by its very premise—that things connect and exchange energy.” — Mary Ruefle, in the title essay “Madness, Rack, and Honey,” in Madness, Rack, and Honey (New York: Wave Books, 2012)

Are you interested in a whole book on the topic of fictional eunuch characters….and specifically just on the ones who are villains? My 2018 book, Painting Dragons, is exactly about this!

Setting of the storyEunuch character
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (2009)fantasyfantasyRyko (supporting character)bodyguard
Percheron Saga (#1, Odalisque; #2, Emissary; #3, Goddess) by Fiona McIntosh (2005)
Discussed in Painting Dragons!
fantasyPercheron (fantasy)Salmeo (main character)Grand Master Eunuch in a palace harem
“The Tale of the Seventeenth Eunuch” by Jane Yolen (1998)fantasyfantasyThe seventeenth eunuch (narrator)wish fulfillment
Like Fire Through Bone by E. E. Ottoman (2013)fantasyfantasyVasilios Eleni (main character), Ilkay Zoe, Xegodis AetiaVasilios was a household servant to a high-status married couple
Sword Dance (Sword Dance, #1) by A. J. Demas (2019)fantasyBoukos (fantasy); Varazda’s homeland is ZashVarazda (also known by the assumed slave name Pharastes)purchased and then freed by Aristokles
Jewel of Persia by Roseanna M. White (2010)489-477 BCEPersiaTheron, Zethar, Mehuman, Bigthan, Tereshpalace eunuchs under King Xerxes, during the time of his Jewish queen Esther
La muerte del filosofo by Vicente Herrasti (2004)c. 380 BCEGreeceAkorna (main character), often called “el acarnio” (the Acharnian)personal servant to the aged philosopher Gorgias
Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert (1862)The Mercenary War, 241-238 BCECarthage (North Africa)Schahabarim (supporting character)high priest of Tanit
Counting Potsherds by Harry Turtledove (1989)early 2nd century BCEAthens (an alternate history in which it had been conquered by the Persians)Mithredath (main character)servant of the Persian king Khsrish
The Eunuch Neferu by Daniel Tegan Marsche (2002)1st century BCEAlexandria (Egypt)Neferu, formerly known as Kebryn (main character)concubine to a Roman general
Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (1991)80 BCERomeAhausarus (supporting character)house servant to Caecilia Metella
The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw (1986)371-378 CEEphesus (Turkey), Alexandria (Egypt), Thrace (Greece)Charis, a woman posing as a eunuch Chariton (main character)physician
The Female by Paul Iselin Wellman (1953)early 6th century CEvariousvariousvarious (everything from personal masseurs to military leaders)
Memoirs of a Byzantine Eunuch by Christopher Harris (2002)He is 7 years old at the time of his castration in 837 CE; the story chronicles his long lifeBorn in Tmutorokan, near Khazaria, he is taken southwest across the Black Sea to ConstantinopleZeno (main character)a scholar, servant to the Church patriarch Photius
Pilgermann by Russell Hoban (1983)The story begins when he is a young man in 1096 C.E., but he travels through timeGermany, and a pilgrimage to JerusalemPilgermann“I think I may have been a tailor or a surgeon or something of that sort”
The Eunuch by Jonathan Kos-Read (2021)1153ChinaEnchenkei Gett;
Gogoro Shen
Chief Imperial Investigator;
Head of the Imperial Harem
The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry (2010)1273ConstantinopleAnna, a woman posing as a eunuch Anastasius (main character)physician, sleuth in disguise
The Prisoners of Fate by Jeremy Han (2015)1435ChinaKong Wei (and many others)Grand Eunuch
The Sultan’s Daughter by Ann Chamberlin (1997)1560sTurkeyAbdullah (narrator), formerly called Venieroservant to a woman who is a prince’s sister and a pasha’s wife
Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani (2012)1570sIranJavaher (narrator), formerly called Payamservant to a princess
The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips (2020)1591-1602EnglandUnnamedAmbassador from the Ottoman sultan
The Fatal Contract: A French Tragedy by William Hemings (1639)17th century? (contemporary fantasy)France“Castrato”really a woman, disguised so she can exact revenge; acting as a servant to a queen
Imprimatur by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti (2002)1683ItalyAtto Melanisinger, abbot
Down the Barbary Coast by Henry Bedford-Jones (1921)1730Algeriaa eunuchguard of a young captive English girl
The Eunuch: Or, the Northumberland Shepherd by Anonymous (1752)mid-1700sEnglandHarry Collison (narrator), falsely believed to be a eunuchclassical singer
Zohrab, The Hostage by James Justinian Morier (1832)1797PersiaAga Mohamed Khan (main character)the Shah (ruler of Persia 1796-1797)
The Last Castrato by J. Wolf Sanchez (2006)early 19th centuryItalyGiaocchino and Vincenzo (twins)castrati singers; serial killer
Harem by Dora Levy Mossanen (2002)19th centuryConstantinopleNarcissus (main character); Gulf Lily and Hazel-Boy (supporting characters)chief black eunuch; palace eunuchs, respectively
Princess Mersabel by Waltenegus Dargie (2021)
This is a revised version of The Eunuch and the King’s Daughter.
c. 1860the kingdom of Kaffa, southwestern EthiopiaMarebaththe Head Guard and protector of the princess
The Eunuch and the King’s Daughter by Waltenegus Dargie (2005)c. 1860the fictional kingdom of Méthi, southwestern EthiopiaMarebaththe Head Guard and protector of the princess
The Beautiful Lady Was a Palace Eunuch by Beverley Jackson (2011)He is 6 years old at the time of his castration in 1904; the story chronicles his life until 1937Peking (Beijing), ChinaLi Chung (main character), and other palace eunuchspalace eunuch trained as an opera singer and martial arts fighter
The Boy Fortune Hunters of China by Floyd Akers (L. Frank Baum) (1909)1908ChinaWi-to (a significant character in the second half of the book), and other palace eunuchschief eunuch at a palace in northwestern China
The Eunuch of Stamboul by Dennis Wheatley (1935)early 20th century (during the presidency of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 1923-1938)IstanbulKazdim Hari Bekar (main character)former palace eunuch, now Chief of Police
Cool Cut by Sharad P. Paul (2007)mid-20th centuryKKP, Tamil Nadu, IndiaRaman, a.k.a. Ramani (main character); Rajinder (supporting character)dancer and eunuch group leader, respectively
Not a Man by M. A. McRae (2011)mid-20th centuryElbarada (in an unnamed Arab country) and EnglandShuki, a.k.a. Shane (main character)child sex slave
Murmur by Will Eaves (2018)1950sEnglandAlec Pryor (narrator, based on the true story of Alan Turing)codebreaker
The Last Castrato by John Spencer Hill (1995)mid-to-late 20th centuryFlorence, ItalyFrancesco Pistocchi, a.k.a. Farinelli, a.k.a. ‘Lo Squartatore’failed classical singer; serial killer
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984)1970sPorteneil, ScotlandFrancis “Frank” Leslie Cauldhame (narrator)child psychopath; murderer of other children
The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre (1985)1980sCalcutta (Kolkata), IndiaKalima (supporting character)hijra; dancer and entertainer in a religious/superstitious capacity
The Strike by Anand Mahadevan (2011)1987IndiaRadha (supporting character)hijra; beggar on a train
The Eunuch: A Dark Tale by Richard Bird (1995)1990sDallas, Texas (United States)Nathan Doering (main character); Geronimo Jones (supporting character)pheromone producers
Jackfoolery by Mark Johnson (2010)1990sWestern parts of the United StatesJack Sullivan (main character)U.S. presidential candidate
Dance of the Eunuch by Jehangir Bux (2013)modern dayIndiaJana (main character)singer and dancer

In 1905, the Evening Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) published The Captain of the Janizaries (1886) by James M. Ludlow, apparently in serial installments. Here is the installment from June 24, 1905 (PDF).

In 1915, the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger (September 21, 1915) announced that Keith’s Theater would put on “Sumurun,” described as “a wordless play from ‘The Arabian Nights,’ written by Friedrich Freska and produced by Richard Ordynski, with scenery by Karl Ernst. Sumurun is the wife of the sheikh. The characters include a “Chief Eunuch” (played by Howard Holden), a “Slave Dealer” (played by Clyde MacKinley”), and other “eunuchs,” “slaves,” and “ladies of the harem.” (I found this image in 2020 via Newspaper Navigator.)

In 1968, Romain Gary published The Dance of Genghis Cohn, which does not have a eunuch character, but uses the word “eunuch” and “impotent” several times.

In 1989, Alice Walker published The Temple of My Familiar, which includes an origin myth of men who castrated themselves because they envied women’s ability to give birth.

In 2018, Jacqueline Carey published Starless, about a girl raised as a boy who becomes a court eunuch in a harem. I haven’t read it, but you can see the review on Adventures in Vanaheim.

Also, not fiction, but rather poetry: “Joy Over Denmark” by Poul Martin Møller, “In Eunucham Poetam” by Andrew Marvell, “The Eunuch” by Ralph Chaplin.