Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood

By Marty Klein, Ph.D.

Why do we say someone is a big dick, but has big balls? Why is the first an insult, while the second is respectful? And what exactly is the connection between the penis, testicles, and masculinity?

These are the kinds of questions that Dr. Gary Taylor tackles in
Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood. The book is a lively discussion of historical, psychosocial, and cultural considerations of eroticism. Along the way, Taylor discusses the Bible, Chaucer, Christina Aguilera, Hemingway, and Freud, as the conversation ranges across continents and centuries. Taylor examines historical models of masculinity, and the change in the perceived source of manhood from the testicles to the penis -- an enormous cultural change related to human evolution from rural and pastoral to urban civilization.

Taylor reminds us that "castration" has always involved removing the testicles, leaving a man fully able to function as an adult (except for his sterility). The procedure was developed thousands of years ago, and has political, religious, artistic, and medical significance. Taylor -- who reads both Greek and Latin -- discusses the meaning of castration for people in various worlds, including Jesus'. He takes the Gospels seriously enough to reexamine their words regarding not only castration, but birth control, monogamy, and other aspects of sexuality. Traditional Christians may not enjoy being reminded of what Jesus and his early followers actually said about such subjects, but Taylor challenges us to understand and integrate the implications of these early Christian ideas.

Taylor's writing is "academic" in the best sense -- well-researched and unapologetically informed (and opinionated) about both high and popular culture. This isn't USA Today-style speculation about "trends" and "people." Taylor's ideas are so well-reasoned that the reader is gladly seduced into following each argument as far as it goes.

Taylor's juxtaposition of history, culture, and psychology, along with his comfort about sexuality, breaks new ground here. The reader's relationship to genitalia -- his/her own and others' -- is forever changed after reading this excellent book. By examining sexuality in its historical context, crucial for understanding other civilizations, he makes the arbitrariness of our own erotic beliefs startlingly visible.

About the Author
Gary Taylor is Professor of English and Director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. His books include Cultural Selection: Why Some Achievements Stand the Test of Time and Others Don't and Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present. He is the general editor of the Oxford Shakespeare.

Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence, ©Marty Klein, Ph.D. (

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Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood by Gary Taylor (Routledge, 2000. ISBN: 0415927854. 307 pages, hardcover, $25.00)

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