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Galen and the widow: towards a history of therapeutic masturbation in ancient gynaecology

King, Helen (2011). Galen and the widow: towards a history of therapeutic masturbation in ancient gynaecology. EuGeStA: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity, 1 pp. 205–235.

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This paper offers a close reading of the ancient Greek and Roman texts which Rachel Maines (The Technology of Orgasm, 1999) used as evidence for therapeutic masturbation in the ancient world, and thus presented as precursors for the vibrator. Examining the evidence of the Hippocratic corpus, Celsus, Soranus and Galen, it shows that the lines of transmission between the ancient sources, and in their later reception, are far more complex than her work suggests, and thus challenges her claims for the normality of massage to orgasm in Western medicine. While Maines herself has subsequently insisted that she proposed a ‘hypothesis’ rather than a ‘fact’, in the popular reception of her book this distinction has been almost entirely overlooked, leading to an obscuring of female agency – both as patients, and as healers.

Item Type: Journal Article
Copyright Holders: 2011 EuGeStA
ISSN: 2156-2253
Extra Information: Winner of the 2011 (presented 2013) Barbara McManus Prize for Best Published Article on Gender or Women’s Studies in Antiquity
Keywords: vibrator; desire; orgasm hysteria; masturbation; massage; seed; midwives; translation
Academic Unit/Department: Arts > Classical Studies
Related URLs:
Item ID: 30726
Depositing User: Helen King
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2012 13:27
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2016 19:54
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