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16. Look like an Angel: The Attire of Eunuchs and Its Significance within the Context of Middle Byzantine Court Ceremonial

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Chapter Summary

Within the context of middle Byzantine court ceremonial, eunuchs controlled and ritualized visual and physical access to the sacred person of the Byzantine emperor. Middle Byzantine texts construct eunuchs as suitable vehicles of communication between the spiritual and the physical worlds. In Byzantine artistic contexts, however, a smooth face was not exclusive to eunuchs, since it was also used to convey male youthfulness. In Byzantium, purple was the imperial colour par excellence but it was also the colour that was employed to render the majesty of Christ and the dignity of the Mother of God in word and image. Carrying the victorious sign of Christ through the palace of the Byzantine emperor, the beardless, angel-like eunuch in his shimmering purple garments would have appeared as the ideal channel for the authority of both, traversing and transcending physical and conceptual boundaries between private and public, sacred and profane.

Keywords: Byzantine eunuch; court ceremonial; God; imperial colour

10.1163/9789004258150_018
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