Female bodies are subject to regularly handle fluids from the womb—whether in a healthy or pathological condition. This chapter aims to address the question of how information on uterine bleeding emerges from magico-religious objects in the Greek Eastern Mediterranean from the late Classical to the Imperial period. In medical debates in Hellenistic Alexandria, gendered fluids were discussed as linked to age. Bleedings were thought to be controlled using gems, and menstrual blood in particular could have been used as a magical ingredient. A key piece of evidence comes from a series of magical gems with a formula around the story of Tantalus. It is here suggested that these gems could be expected to protect against miscarriage or other haemorrhages during pregnancy and childbirth caused by an Evil Eye attack. The present study highlights the connections between specialist medical knowledge of bodily fluids, ritual knowledge, social visibility of fluids, and emotions, particularly shame—of menstruation as well as of not conforming to the model of a fertile mother with no reproductive dysfunctions. It argues that practical knowledge on bleedings from the womb contributed at not concealing them in shame: they were kept well visible in ancient discourses, objects, and rituals with the purpose of limiting their potential harm to women’s health. As they crossed the boundaries between the internal and the external of the body, an unshameful visibility could have offered a way to best deal with them.

Uterine bleeding, knowledge, and emotion in ancient Greek medical and magical representations

Irene Salvo
2021-01-01

Abstract

Female bodies are subject to regularly handle fluids from the womb—whether in a healthy or pathological condition. This chapter aims to address the question of how information on uterine bleeding emerges from magico-religious objects in the Greek Eastern Mediterranean from the late Classical to the Imperial period. In medical debates in Hellenistic Alexandria, gendered fluids were discussed as linked to age. Bleedings were thought to be controlled using gems, and menstrual blood in particular could have been used as a magical ingredient. A key piece of evidence comes from a series of magical gems with a formula around the story of Tantalus. It is here suggested that these gems could be expected to protect against miscarriage or other haemorrhages during pregnancy and childbirth caused by an Evil Eye attack. The present study highlights the connections between specialist medical knowledge of bodily fluids, ritual knowledge, social visibility of fluids, and emotions, particularly shame—of menstruation as well as of not conforming to the model of a fertile mother with no reproductive dysfunctions. It argues that practical knowledge on bleedings from the womb contributed at not concealing them in shame: they were kept well visible in ancient discourses, objects, and rituals with the purpose of limiting their potential harm to women’s health. As they crossed the boundaries between the internal and the external of the body, an unshameful visibility could have offered a way to best deal with them.
2021
Greek medical and magical thought, magical gems, female bodies, menstruation, uterine bleeding, shame
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11562/1087107
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