The Rooster‘s Egg: Maternal Metaphors and Medieval Men
Jane Lepp, Amanda
Doctor of Philosophy, Department of History, University of Toronto (2010)
The present study explores representations of the female reproductive body in medieval written sources, with an emphasis on the figurative language that was used to describe pregnancy, childbirth, menstruation, and lactation when these phenomena take place in the female body and, symbolically, in male bodies. This examination of what are herein labeled ―maternal metaphors‖ in men, that is a comparison between a male subject and an attribute specific to women‘s reproductive bodies, reveals how anatomical and physiological characteristics exclusive to the female reproductive body were used to convey descriptive meaning, and considers why and in what contexts such comparisons were made. This study looks at ancient and medieval medical writing, biblical and medieval Christian religious sources, and various other texts taken from medieval secular and popular literature, where maternal metaphors were used to describe other anatomical and physiological phenomena that were not specific to women, physical and behavioural characteristics of male subjects, and intangible qualities of divine persons. This thesis argues that the female body was the site of diverse conceptual associations in medieval medical and religious traditions, and that, as a result, it proved to be a significant source for figurative analogies that could convey similarly wide-ranging meanings. When pregnancy, childbirth, menstruation, and lactation were used metaphorically to describe male subjects, the variety of connotations that were transferred reflects the range of possible meanings; however, the complexity is not transmitted. Maternal metaphors in men convey meanings that are either good or bad, or occasionally neutral, depending on the context and subject.