Social Perception of Infertility and Its Treatment in Late Medieval Italy: Margherita Datini, an Italian Merchant’s Wife
By Jong Kuk Nam
Korean Journal of Medical History, Volume 25, Number 3, 2016
Abstract: Because the perception of infertility in medieval Europe ranged from the extremely religious view of it as a malediction of God or the devil’s work, to the reasonable medical conception of it as a sort of disease to treat, it is very difficult to determine the general attitudes of ordinary people towards infertility.
This article seeks to elucidate the common social perception of infertility and its treatment in late medieval Europe by analyzing the case of Margherita Datini, an Italian merchant’s wife who lived in the 1400s. It relies heavily on the documents left by her and her husband, Francesco Datini; the couple left many records, including letters of correspondence between them. Margherita and those around her regarded infertility not as the devil’s curse or a punishment by God but as a disease that can be cured.
Margherita and her husband, Francesco, tried hard to cure their infertility. They received treatment and prescriptions from several doctors while also relying on folk remedies, religious therapies, and even magical remedies. The comparative analysis of Datini documents, medical books, and theoretical treatises or prescriptive essays by clerics suggests that the general perception of infertility in medieval Europe was located between the extremely religious and modern medical conceptions of it.