Persian Letter Series: Letter 96 – The First Eunuch to Usbek, at Paris

This is the seventeenth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 96:

I am a connoisseur of women, the more so because they cannot catch me off my guard.  With me, the impulses of the emotions do not distract the eye.

I have never seen beauty so regular and perfect.  The brilliance of her eyes brings her face to life, and enhances the quality of a complexion which could eclipse all the splendours of Circassia.

Comments on the excerpt above:

Félix Auguste Clément (French, 1826-1888) – A Circassian Woman in the HaremWhat man has not thought he possesses the same skill as a eunuch in judging the beauty of a woman?  Who doesn’t love beautiful women?  Who doesn’t love their hair, their eyes, their fragrance, et al.  What guy wouldn’t want a whole harem of beautiful women to come home to and a first eunuch working hard to find more beautiful women while he was away?  I am, however, going to plead the 5th here before I say anything too incriminating with regard to my marriage and suffice it to say:  I love my wife and she is the most beautiful woman in the world.

It was, on another note, surprising to read Montesquieu’s perceptions of a eunuch’s thoughts.  Because eunuchs are so far removed from Western culture in 2011, the ignorant image I had in my head was quite different than Montesquieu’s perception.

Somehow, when you think of a man who has had his testicles removed, you think somehow that he’d be weak or not truly a man.  But if you compare a man to a dog and think of dogs that are with testicles and those that are neutered, you can perhaps more easily relate to the difference in their behavior.  It’s the closest analogy I can think of.  A dog that has his testicles is almost too aggressive and ornery if he doesn’t have the freedom to seek females.  Yet a neutered dog is not so preoccupied with those things that get him into trouble.  As humans, we fall in love with the dog whether he’s neutered or not, but the neutered dog seems to be much less trouble.  I’ve never met a eunuch, but maybe we’re not that much different than dogs in this regard.

Maybe this is where the saying comes from that males have a big brain and a little brain.  Sometimes, the little brain clouds the judgement of the big brain.  In a way, maybe we men would get in a lot less trouble if we were all neutered.

Ok, I don’t think there’s any way to cover this topic without getting in trouble with my words.  I wanted to talk about women and how much I enjoy the many shapes, sizes, eye colors, and hairdos they have, but there is no way for a married man to talk about the beauty of other women without finding trouble.  Read the book and you will find the letters from eunuchs and all the rest very interesting I’m sure.

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