CLA232H1 Lecture Notes - Scrotum, Hippocratic Oath, Female Hysteria

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25 Apr 2012
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CLA March 5
We saw in Airs, Waters, Places that Hippocrates was trying to find natural,
physical and environmental sources for the differences between Greeks and
Barbarians.
Medical texts on gynaecology. Focus is on physys – anatomy. What we see is
that even as Hippocrates, Galen and Aristotle are trying to understand sex,
gender is always creeping in.
What we find is that sex may always already be gender – meaning underneath
the anatomical differences, those differences may not be explicable without a set
of gender presuppositions.
All of the writers insist that women produce seed, that they are colder, that the
uterus moves around. Women = inverted men.
These texts come from a range of authors & periods. Hippocrates writes in 5th C
BCE. Aristotle 4th C BCE. Galen 2nd C C.E under the Roman Empire. You can
trace the evolution from Hippocrates to Aristotle to Galen. What’s most
remarkable is the similarities and how little approaches to gender changes in 6-7
centuries.
Up until the 19th century the idea of the wandering womb as causing female
hysteria was still accepted. Hysteria comes from the word hystera (womb).
Women are reproductive machines and when they’re broken that’s when
medicine intervenes.
Both men and women have semen but men’s semen is creative and
reproductive, but women’s is passive and needs to be activated by male semen.
Passage 341 from Hippocrates: spontaneous abortion. A woman who is keeping
prostitutes calls Hippocrates to abort one of the prostitutes’ baby. Hippocrates
gets to observe a 6 day old embryo. He observes the ovum in detail. He also
alludes to women’s knowledge (what the women tell each other). Hippocrates
even suggests that this female medical tradition can be useful to men.
The only reason a man might be willing to let a stranger (a doctor) is if she’s
having reproductive problems or facing death from childbirth related problems.
The Hippocratic oath – talking about not talking with patients’ wives.
Greeks were VERY secretive and reclusive about their homes and wives and
lives.
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