Chapter 9 A Woman in Flux: Fluidity in Hippocratic Gynaecology

In: Holism in Ancient Medicine and Its Reception
Laurence M. V. Totelin
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In this chapter, I analyse passages that refer to water features, such as rivers and wells, in the Hippocratic gynaecological treatises. I suggest that the Hippocratic authors drew analogies between the vessels of the female body and riverbeds, thereby pointing to a form of holism in which the female body was a microcosm of the earth, furrowed by watery channels. A young woman’s vessels were narrow and prone to blockages, but they widened and became more easy-flowing as a woman gave birth. The transition from parthenos to gynē, then, was one associated with fluidity. To understand better the context of the Hippocratic texts, I discuss ancient rituals involving water that marked a woman’s transition into adulthood. These rituals often involved the Nymphs who resided in rivers and wells.

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