Infertility, Blame and Responsibility in the Hippocratic Corpus

Fallas, Rebecca Mary (2016). Infertility, Blame and Responsibility in the Hippocratic Corpus. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores infertility in the ancient medical texts. Fertility was a topic of great interest to ancient medical writers and in the last 30 years their views have received considerable attention from modem scholars.

Although the subject of infertility has been discussed within the wider context of fertility, there has been little work that focuses specifically on infertility. In fact, the only work that has begun to analyse infertility in any detail is Rebecca Flemming’s 2013 article ‘The Invention of Infertility in the Classical Greek World: Medicine, Divinity, and Gender’. Although Flemming’s work is a welcome addition to the scholarship, it is only the beginning, and Flemming herself highlights that more research is needed on this topic. The aim of this thesis, then, is to undertake a full-scale study of infertility focusing on the ancient texts. I intend to show that by approaching the ancient medical texts with the question ‘what do these texts tell us about infertility?’ instead of ‘what do these texts tell us about fertility?’ the answers, and therefore our understanding of infertility, are very different.

The first half of the thesis outlines what infertility meant to the ancient medical writers by looking at factors such as the language of infertility, its perceived causes and its various treatments. The second half seeks to build on the first by analysing how responsibility for infertility was shared between the couple in both theory and practice. In the final two chapters, I explore how the apparent system of blame and protection associated with infertility is articulated by the Hippocratic authors.

The focus of this thesis is the Hippocratic corpus, most of which dates from the fifth to fourth centuries BC. However, I also consider other ancient authors, particularly the biological works of Aristotle, in order to place the Hippocratic theories into a wider context. In addition, I will consider evidence beyond the ancient medical texts in order to examine possible alternative sources of advice and treatment available to an infertile couple.

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