Medieval Obstetrics, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Womb


Medieval Obstetrics, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Womb

By Adam Blumenberg

Historian: New York University College of Arts and Science Undergraduate Department of History (2009)

Introduction: The medieval conception of anatomy was founded in a highly logical and systematic structure. Ignoring the facticity of the humoral medicine’s predicates, the process by which conclusions were drawn from observed particulars and “known” universals was sound. That is to say regardless of whether the precepts of humoral theory were themselves correct, the diagnoses and treatments actually performed by medical practitioners conformed to a strict syllogistic system. Humoral theory was established by Greek physicians such as Disocorides, Hippocrates and Galen. This body of knowledge was preserved and transmitted to medieval Europe via Muslim Spain and the Middle East. While the Greek masters delineated the foundational elements of humoral anatomy, it was further developed and complicated by Arabic physicians such as Avicenna and Rhazes. By the time the medical corpus reached England, it had accumulated a millennium of redaction and complexity.




The practice of gynecology was a unique brand of medicine, which drew stark boundaries based on gender of both practitioner and patient. Midwives were responsible for the treatment of feminine maladies and the care of expectant mothers. Although the basis for such medicine was founded on humoral theory, it was considered unnecessary and inefficient to train midwives in theoretical medicine. Therefore the greater body of medicine was often abbreviated and compartmentalized into specialized compedia for midwives.

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Sharan Newman