Bad History, doctors, drugs, love, sex

Cleopatra and the vibrator powered by bees

One of the most far-fetched myths about ancient sexuality, repeated online but also in print, is that Cleopatra invented the vibrator. Some sites date this event to ‘circa 54 BC’ while others go for 45 BC: there’s nothing like a date to make a story look more convincing. Now, there’s obviously one little problem here:… Continue reading Cleopatra and the vibrator powered by bees

beards, birth, death, doctors, Hippocrates, love, menstruation, pregnancy, womb

Gendered flesh, prolapse and sex change: the case of Phaethousa

‘Her body was masculinized (τό τε σῶμα ἠνδρώθη)’. This is one aspect of the description of Phaethousa of Abdera, who features in one of the Hippocratic ‘case histories’ from probably the fourth century BC. When her husband leaves, or goes into exile, this previously fecund woman stops menstruating and experiences a range of symptoms, including… Continue reading Gendered flesh, prolapse and sex change: the case of Phaethousa

death, love

The glory that was Greece?

Beneath the most-quoted lines, there can be a surprising story… When we study the ancient Greeks and Romans, we are always having to tread a fine line between familiarity and distance. If they are people just like us, then we feel that we can easily understand the nuance of a line of poetry, or appreciate… Continue reading The glory that was Greece?

doctors, drugs, food, love, remedies, sex

Poisons and love potions

Everybody knows that the ancient Greek word pharmakon means both healing drug and poison. So how could you tell the (rather important!) difference? In Latin, the equivalent term venenum was similarly used in both senses, and Roman law codes tried to tie down that ambiguity by making it clear whether a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’… Continue reading Poisons and love potions