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Notes on Readings (from Course Materials) v.2

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Regina Höschele

CLA219: Women inAntiquity Readings from Course Materials Oct 23 - Nov 06 Readings for Oct 30 (No Course Materials for the 23rd) The Wandering Womb. Magical and MedicalApproaches to the Wandering Womb in the Ancient Greek World - Faraone The idea that the womb traveled causing a spasmodic disease similar to epilepsy was very pop- ular among ancient Greeks Beginning in the Classical period with Plato and the Hippocratic writes Continued down on with both doctors and exorcists into the Roman and Byzantine periods Factored into the treatment of Uterine suffocation Recent archaeology has shed light on the processes of the ritual designed to control the womb Amulets from as widespread as Lebanon, Egypt and England Imagined demons and errant wombs as wild animals Fumigations to control it Apparently earlier theory was that midwives or wet-nurses were the original source for either the idea of the wandering womb, or its treatment The Wandering Womb from Plato to the Medical Writers of the Roman Empire In Platos Timaeus it is described how the gods created desire for sexual intercourse by mak- ing the male penis and female uterus animated creatures in their own right The womans uterus desires childbearing and whenever it is empty for a long time past puberty it grows distressed and starts wandering about causing all sorts of diseases Although he begins describing both the penis and womb in tandem, in the end he has much more to say about the womb It alone can wander through the body and cause illnesses The penis vanishes from his discussion entirely This is one of the earliest explicit references tot he wandering womb Some scholars have suggested that the same idea may lie behind mythical accounts of female madness or sickness Most common with stories of young women who refuse to marry, or are prevented from doing so The only other classical Greek sources that talk explicitly about the wandering womb are some medical treatises attributed to Hippocrates, which were probably composed by different individu- als between 425 BC and 350 BC I.e., roughly contemporaneous with Platos lifetime The wandering womb appears in one of the earliest gynecological treatises Here Hippocratic writers focus on specific symptoms and their probably causes Dont offer a general theory about why the womb gets displaced in the first place They never explicitly say that the womb is a living animal, instead the seem to imagine a set of more aggressive actions of shorter duration I.e., that the womb can leap or fall, etc. These sort of sudden, violent movements are often attributed to demons who attack the body externally Hippocratic doctors recommend a number of therapies for the displaced womb To stop the womb from moving int he first place she should get married young and engage in repeated intercourse with her husband and bear as many children as possible so the womb will always be moist and heavy and thus incapable of movementCLA219: Women inAntiquity Readings from Course Materials Oct 23 - Nov 06 In short the ability of the womb to move about justifies the patriarchal ideal of a womans life Early marriage and multiple pregnancies If dislodged the treatments suggested include baths, uterine infusions, and a series of physical manipulations and bindings of the abdomen to force the womb back in place Also elaborate fumigations where the pleasant and foul smells urge the direction of the womb Acrid smells in the nose force the wandering womb down away from the upper body Sweet unguents below entice the womb back to its proper place in the lower abdomen Some argue that while Hippocratic writers do not always refer to the womb as a living animal, the use of fumigation implies it had a sense of smell and could react to olfactory stimuli Other suggest that over time these writers distance themselves from the odor therapies and there is the theory that the womb moves mechanically when it becomes light and dry, being at- tracted or other organs that have more moisture In On the Illnesses of Maidens [virgins] there is the suggestions that some girls who experience their first period suffer from blood trapped in the uterus which finds no exit through the vagina and moves into the heart and diaphragm, manifesting the same symptoms as the wan- dering womb Here too the hippocratic author explicitly assimilates this condition to epilepsy and his the- ory of causation of the blocked passage of menses is analogous to the explanation of epilepsy in another Hippocratic treatise, In the Sacred Disease In the advent of human dissection, about 50 years after Plats death strongly challenged the concept of the mobile womb among doctors and med
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