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Lecture 7

Lecture 7 - Ancient Medicine & the Female Body

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University of Toronto St. George
Regina Höschele

Lecture 7 – Ancient Medicine & the Female Body Hippocrates  Born around 460 BCE on the island of Cos  Most of the writings attributed to him are not actually his – he was just the stereotypical doctor of the time  Corpus Hippocraticum – dozens of writings under his name  His most common work is On The Sacred Disease o Refers to epilepsy (believed to have been sent by the gods)  The Hippocratic Oath o Anyone who practises medicine must swear this oath o This oath is sworn to Apollo and Ascleipius (the son of Apollo and the god of medicine) o Doctors swear to help patient to the best of their ability & judgement  Cannot be held accountable if something goes wrong (otherwise doctors would be very hesitant to treat patients/ try new methods) o Swear to do no harm, to administer no deadly drugs, to uphold doctor-patient confidentiality, not to have sex with patients, and to not give permission for abortion etc.  Lots of gynecological texts are still existing  On the Nature of Women and Sterility - focuses largely on pathology o Not really about body, but cases of disease, the results, and the cures o What can go wrong and why?  Doctors were all male at the time therefore access to female bodies was difficult  Hagnodike – the first female doctor th o Disguised herself as a man in the 4 century and went to Alexandria to practise medicine o Would reveal to female patients her gender and they would allow her to treat them o She was so successful with women that other doctors suggested that she would sleep with her patients o She was put on trial where she revealed her gender o Accused of a crime but the women banded together and protested o Result was that free born women could now become doctors  Hippocrates believed that men and women were two completely different sexes  Aristotle on the other hand believed that a woman is an inferior, infertile man o Reflects a cultural bias Menstruation  Defining characteristic of a woman  Believed to be the cause of many diseases  Was the result of too much fluid/moisture in the body o Excess must be released once a month o Caused women to be unpredictable  Related to a problem of body temperature Humor’s Theory  Humor – bodily fluid  Temperature and moisture cause different symptoms and moods  Hot, cold, dry, wet o Hot + dry = yellow bile  choleric – hot tempered o Cold + dry = black bile  melancholic – depressed, lethargic o Hot + wet = blood  sanguine – optimistic o Cold + wet = phlegm  phlegmatic – unemotional, calm  Constitutes attitude and behaviour  Too wet? Leaches were used for bloodletting  A man was considered to be firm and compact  A woman was considered to be loose and spongy  Women’s bodies absorb excess blood from the stomach o Compares to wool that absorbs liquid  Breasts prove how much looser the female body is o Looser = more irrational  Aristotle believed that semen was the male equivalent of menstruation o Leftover blood in the male body turns to semen through exercise and heat  Women’s bodies are cold and can therefore not create semen  Young boys are ‘imperfect males’ – still cold and can therefore not yet produce semen  In antiquity a woman was not banned from temples during menstruation o Sex was actually often prescribed by a physician during sex  Reading by Aristotle: if a woman who is menstruating looks in a mirror, the mirror is clouded and turns dark red o The air is disturbed by the blood  Reading by Pliny  to get rid of beetles in a field, have a woman walk through while menstruating o Not a prevalent view  Menstruation was necessary for a woman’s health o If a girl doesn’t have one at t
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