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The Eunuch and the Emperor

Was the eunuch Earinus the lover of Domitian, one of Rome’s ‘Bad Emperors’? Llewelyn Morgan pieces together the extraordinary relationship between them.

The Kidnapping of Ganymede by Peter Paul Rubens, 1611-12Roman poetry offers many pleasures, but one thing it does not often provide is insight into the lives and experiences of the socially marginalised. We hear a lot about members of the social and political elite, from whom came both the authors and most of the readers of literature in Rome. We also see a fair amount of abuse directed at figures who might threaten the control exerted by this elite, such as influential women or powerful ex-slaves. Sympathetic accounts of the lives and aspirations of such people are, however, thin on the ground.

No group in Greco-Roman society was more maligned than the one to which Earinus belonged. He was a eunuch. To a culture that associated sexual potency with social respectability, eunuchs were beneath contempt. Yet for a brief moment in AD 94 Earinus transcended his contemptible condition, or at least that is how it appears from examination of the historical record. The story of Earinus tells us something about an individual’s efforts to achieve dignity in a culture that despised him.

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