Medieval Ideas on Women's Health Were Medieval , 0 Comments

Articles on women’s health are so ubiquitous nowadays, it’s easy to see them as a sign of the times. But women have written about women’s bodies for centuries, and the most notable example in Western Europe was The Trotula, the authoritative gynecological text from the late 12th century to the late 15th century.  

The author was Trotula of Salerno, possibly one of the first female professors of medicine. She lived in Italy, a cultural crossroads that inspired her to combine Galenic medicine with the cosmetic practices of Muslim women and the common herbal remedies of medieval Europe.  

Of course, ideas about the female body were a little different back then. For instance, The Trotula states that the uterus floats freely about the body searching for spots of warmth. Women in the medieval ages worried their uteruses might get caught in their throats, causing suffocation, or that it would drop right out the bottom. According to The Trotula, the uterus has to seek warmth because a woman’s body is too cold and damp. That’s why she has to find a male, whose body is hot and dry, to balance herself out. If the man can’t dry her up enough, a lady should bathe in “hot” herbs, such as juniper, catmint, pennyroyal, wormwood or mugwort. “Hot” herbs can also draw the uterus to different areas of the body.  

Trotula believed in Galen’s theory of Humorism, or the idea that imbalance between liquids within the body cause disease. To balance these liquids, or “humors,” doctors would let blood, often with leeches. However, the body can purge a few of its own excesses. A man balances himself out by growing hair and sweating, while a woman removes hers by simply bleeding it out every month in nature’s own way.  

She included a Middle Eastern hair dye concoction, a recipe that supposedly simulated virginity, and instructions on how to make your baby a certain gender. But above all, she explained the scary, unknown events that sometimes occur within our bodies. They may have since been debunked, but she encouraged women (and the doctors who treated them) to care for their health and pay attention to the needs of their bodies.

-Alison Maney