London: Printed for E. Curll, 1718. First edition in English. Contemporary panelled calf, rebacked with original spine laid down. Measuring 155 x 95mm and collating: , v-xxiv, 240, 12: conforming to ESTC, without the preliminary blank and including publisher's catalogue to the rear. Early bookseller's label of Robert Akenhead of Newcastle on Tyne (1722-1751) on the front pastedown. Offsetting to pastedowns, and small paper repair to outer margin of front endpaper; occasional contemporary notations and a smudge to page xxiii, else internally clean and pleasing. A translation of Robert Samber's Traite des Eunuques, it is one of the few surviving contemporary resources on the history and social positions of the Italian castrati.
Released by the pornographic publisher Edmund Curll, Eunuchism Display'd did more than simply titillate English readers by presenting them with an exoticised body that defied binary gender. It also preserved the history of a people now oft forgotten, whose lives and identities were shaped very publicly by acts committed on the most intimate parts of their bodies in order to pleasure others. "During the 18th century, Italian vocal music was dominated by the voices of castrati...the stimulus to preserve the pre-pubertal male voice into adult life by castration had, in the first place, come from the Church of Rome in the late 16th century...but the main reason for the rise in popularity of the castrato voice was the coming of opera to the Italian musical scene...By the first half of the 18th century opera had spread from the great centers of Naples, Venice, and Rome to many European cities including London, where the top visiting castrati were regarded as international stars able to command enormous fees" (Jenkins).
Ancillon traces the tradition of eunuchism from the ancient world to his own present day, never shying from the role Catholic officials played in the practice. He preserves information about methods of castration -- without which we could "not really know how they were operated on or what the effects were" (Rosselli). Ancillon also appends to this record a debate about the gender identities of castrati, Church arguments on whether they should be permitted to marry, and to whom. "Canon law forbade them from getting married...they were forbidden from becoming priests...they were prevented from serving in governmental posts or the military" and in the absence of options following retirement, "it was not unusual for some castrati to become the sexual favorites of high ranking Church prelates" (Mickens). In this, Eunuchism Display'd fulfills the promise of its title: it fully exposes that when castrati exited the stage, their bodies were still treated as public property to be regulated and controlled rather than individual and autonomous. Eunuchism is thus part of a larger and ongoing matrix shaping institutional reactions to those whose existence undermines rigidly prescribed notions of gender. As the Church today condemns LGBTQ+ peoples, it becomes clear, again, that institutional rejection of these communites is tied to power and exploitation. "The production of castrati happened within a Catholic context that the hierarchy was able to control and from which it could benefit, whereas transgender people are a 'secular phenomenon' based on...the ability of the individual to craft one's own identity" (Mickens).
ESTC T75792. (Item #4228)