TESTICLES: A Brief History


(Investigator 35, 1994 March)

In the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) Steve Martin has an argument which results in him getting knocked down and "lifted by his testicles".

Jean Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport (1987) is a martial arts expert with a punch that could smash through five bricks. In one scene this sledge-hammer punch smashes into an opponents testicles. The opponent is distracted by this and staggers back but needs further action before quitting.

In Batman II Catwoman lands a kick to the groin of Batman who simply shrugs. James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever gets similarly kicked by a woman and reacts by half drowning her in a swimming pool.

Hollywood gives the impression that testicles are as tough and indestructible as ball bearings.

The functions of these two oval objects in the scrotum include production of spermatozoa (necessary to fertilize a female) and production of the steroid-hormone testosterone which causes maturing of the sexual organs and maintains sexual desire. The truth is that the testicles are soft and sensitive and a severe enough injury to them can kill you!

The father of Russian novelist Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) was murdered by a mob of serfs by having his testicles crushed! To martial arts experts the testicles are the "Golden Target" a blow to them often being sufficient to win an argument.

Women, too, have found the testicles to be a useful target when in a situation of having to discourage a persistent and stronger male. Maid Marian, in Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves, discourages Robin Hood with a blow to the scrotum.

New Woman (1992 May) had an article on "dirty street-fighting tactics that could save your life." In the article it's suggested that a woman can overcome most sorts of male aggression by targeting either the eyes or the testicles. For example when held in a headlock: "Bring the hand up and under between his legs. One good squeeze is enough to make him lose his grip."

In the time of Abraham the swearing of an oath included putting one's hand on the genitals of the person to whom the promise was made. The Biblical figure of speech used was "put your hand under my thigh." (Genesis 24:2)

The genitals were considered the most sacred part of a man and to swear by them represented sacredness and unalterable obligation. This tradition continues at least etymologically when you give a "testimonial" or make a "testament". You're indirectly taking an oath on the testis or testicles — even if you're a woman!

Hottentots of Africa believed, superstitiously, that birth of twins was very unlucky and that to have twins the father needed to have two testicles. Indeed women declined to marry fully endowed men. Therefore men went through the operation of getting one testicle removed this being half or "demi" castration. Of course if a woman with a one-testicled husband nevertheless produced twins she had problems.

Castration — full castration — is very ancient. Methods used included crushing with a stone, cutting with a flint knife, burning with a red hot poker and opening the scrotum and pulling the testicles out. The practice probably started with animals to make them docile and was then applied to men, especially slaves and war captives, to make them obedient.

Conquered enemy tribes could be made into servile and docile slaves via castration. This also ensured the eventual dying out of the enemy tribe. Ancient empires such as Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Persia systematically deprived captive enemies who had resisted too stoutly of their testicles. Also the earliest war trophies and dowries, in Asia, consisted of the genitals of enemies.

Some ancient cults required the sacrifice of the testicles and/or penis of converts. This was the case with Astarte, goddess of fertility and love, and the Greek goddess and "mother of nature" Cybele. The operation, often self inflicted, occurred during orgies, drunkenness and wild dancing, which activities also acted as anesthetics.

Castration was also a punishment in many penal codes. Frisians desexed rapists. In India insulting a member of a higher caste led to being castrated. In Wales a large fine could be paid for by castration — a choice between paying your debt in money or in testicles!

The Law of Moses in the Old Testament included a command to stop a wife from helping her husband in a fight by grabbing the other man's genitals. Such a woman was to have her hand cut of! (Deuteronomy 25:11)

Another command prevented men who had their "stones broken" from officiating as priests. (Leviticus 21:20) The reason for such a command was not that men were especially careless with their testicles in those days and needed to be cautioned. Rather, being physically without defect or sickness was probably meant to represent the perfection of God. Probably it was also a rejection of the castration laws and practices of other nations including the deliberate making of men into eunuchs.

Employment as a eunuch was common in ancient times. A eunuch for example could be trusted to look after a harem. Also, as already discussed, eunuchs were more manageable as slaves. Ironically, then, some eunuchs were military commanders. For example, Narses (478-573 AD) was an important general in Emperor Justinian's 6th century attempts to recreate the Roman Empire.

Sometimes Jesus is accused of advocating castration:

"The disciples said to him, 'If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.' But he said to them, 'Not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." (Matthew 19:10-12)

The context was a discussion about marriage and therefore the words "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of heaven" would refer to a choice to stay unmarried.

However, pseudo Christian cults did arise which took Jesus literally and practiced castration for full membership. One cult of castrates began about 250 AD and was named after its founder Valerius. It became widespread.

In Russia the "Scopts" in the time of Catherine the Great (1729-1796) practiced "baptism by fire" by burning the testicles off with a red hot poker. Later they switched to using a knife or piece of glass but fire was still used to stop the bleeding. The Scopts believed that Christ would come again and castrate all mankind and make the whole world Scopts. Early in the 20th century there were about 5,000 Scopts left in Russia. They rejected the Christian Bible and used a substitute except for the seeming command to become eunuchs!

During the Middle Ages women in Catholic Europe were banned from church choirs. The supply of soprano voices was therefore kept up by castrating boy singers prior to puberty. Castration kept the vocal cords from lengthening and maintained a higher pitched voice. Factories in France exported "castrati" to Spain and Italy. Pope Clement XIV outlawed the practice in 1770.

I'll finish this survey of testicles in history by quoting part of a news report from The Advertiser:

"WELLINGTON: A man bit off a police dog's ear yesterday and had his testicles bitten in return.
The offender has been charged with obstructing police and cruelty to an animal." (1993 December 4 p. 9)