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Eunuchs would usually be servants or slaves who had been castrated in order to make them reliable servants of a royal court where physical access to the ruler could wield great influence.

Seemingly lowly domestic functions—such as making the ruler's bed, bathing him, cutting his hair, carrying him in his litter, or even relaying messages—could in theory give a eunuch "the ruler's ear" and impart de facto power on the formally humble but trusted servant.

Castration was typically carried out on the soon-to-be eunuch without his consent in order that he might perform a specific social function; this was common in many societies.

The early 17th century scholar and theologian Gerardus Vossius therefore explains that the word originally designated an office, and he affirms the view that it was derived from eunē and ekhein (i.e. He says the word only came to be applied to castrated men in general because such men were the usual holders of that office.

Still, Vossius notes the alternate etymologies offered by Eustathius ("deprived of mating") and others ("having the mind in a good state"), calling these analyses "quite subtle".

Then, after having previously declared that eunuch designated an office (i.e., not a personal characteristic), Vossius ultimately sums up his argument in a different way, saying that the word "originally signified continent men" to whom the care of women was entrusted, and later came to refer to castration because "among foreigners" that role was performed "by those with mutilated bodies".

Modern etymologists have followed Orion's first option.

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