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monstrous births


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Minor defects in a newborn baby were generally explained as due to some shock or unpleasant sight at the moment of conception, or during the mother's pregnancy, but major malformations were regarded as God's judgement on serious sin, especially lack of charity, blasphemy, or breaching a sexual taboo. These ideas were especially prevalent in the 16th and 17th centuries, and continued to appear in popular reprints of old works. Thus, an 1890 reprint of the pseudo-medical Aristotle's Masterpiece (1684) explained that ‘some monsters are begotten by a woman's unnatural lying with beasts’, as happened in 1603 when a child was born that was half-human, half-dog (p. 35); others because the parents made love while the woman was menstruating (pp. 40–1).


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