This is one of those stories about the classical world which starts with assumptions, and ends with them being shaken up as the result of one simple discovery.
‘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
I'm fascinated by imaginary body parts: things which people used to believe existed, but which we no longer accept. I've recently read Naomi Alderman's novel The Power, which is based on the notion of a new part, the 'skein', developing in women and allowing them to zap men. Back in 2012, the Queen’s… Continue reading Imaginary body parts
Here’s a particularly fine case of Bad History, showing that while it’s bad enough to modify an ancient text to make it into a precursor of a modern condition, it’s even worse to misread a remedy as a symptom in order to make a historical text do what you want it to do! Trotula… Continue reading Making a disease from a remedy: Trotula and vaginismus
Back in 2013, I published a book about the claim that there was a clear division in the history of Western Europe between two models of the body: ‘one-sex’ and ‘two-sex’. In the first model, men and women were seen as having exactly the same genital bits and pieces, but with men’s on the outside… Continue reading One-sex and two-sex bodies?