The castration of Peter Abelard : how male identity was shaped in the Middle Ages
The 12th and 13th centuries were period of heightened anxiety about the male body, its sexuality, and the definition of "manhood." Based on widening knowledge of human anatomy and masculinity, philosophers posed the question whether a eunuch could still be considered "male" if he lacked the sexual organs that identified him as a man. This debate then spread within the confines of the religious thought, as clerics discussed how the Church should treat eunuchs (legally and spiritually). The following thesis investigates medieval views on "manhood" and focuses on the status of eunuchs within the ecclesiastical system. Peter Abelard (1079- 1142), a philosopher who was made eunuch, will be used as a window to the treatment of eunuchs by the Church. The thesis argues that although the Church did not approve of castration, there were no specific canon laws which ostracized or damned eunuchs. Furthermore, this thesis shows that because Abelard had successfully consummated his marriage, there was no mandate for Abelard to renounce his relationship with his wife Heloise after being castrated. Finally, this thesis charts Abelard's opinions on his own castration, beginning with his interpretation of the Mosaic Law as evidence for God's abhorrence of eunuchs and ending with his belief that his castration was a divinely granted remedy that allowed him to focus on excelling as a philosopher and theologian.
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Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic;Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Honors in the Major Thesis
King, Jessica E. S., "The castration of Peter Abelard : how male identity was shaped in the Middle Ages" (2010). HIM 1990-2015. 1014.