The Cultural Construct of the Female Body in Classical Greek Science<sup>†</sup>

Lesley Dean-Jones

in Sex and Difference in Ancient Greece and Rome

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2003 | ISBN: 9780748613199
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651016 | DOI:
The Cultural Construct of the Female Body in Classical Greek Science†

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There is an obvious correlation between genitalia and an individual's role in the propagation of the species, but no culture considers this difference in external genitalia in and of itself sufficient to justify the complete separation of male and female roles in society. In ancient Greece, the polarisation of sexual roles was far more marked than in modern society. Little explicit reference is made to female anatomy or physiology in the majority of Greek literature, but there are two sources that discuss these matters in great detail. The first is the gynecology of the Hippocratic Corpus; the second is the biology of Aristotle. The two most striking observable developments in the female body at puberty – menstruation and breasts – are explained by both the Hippocratics and Aristotle as the manifestation of the hitherto concealed female nature that made it difficult for women to perform in the male sphere. The sexual differentia of menstruation, breast, and womb are all accounted for in Hippocratic theory by the nature of female flesh.

Keywords: ancient Greece; female body; menstruation; breasts; womb; sexual roles; gynecology; Hippocratic Corpus; biology; Aristotle

Chapter.  9357 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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