Making Men and Women: Arabic Commentaries on the Hippocratic Gynaecological Aphorisms in Context
Institut français d'archéologie orientale
Reason for embargo
Two year embargo - publisher's requirement
This paper focuses on several passages concerning the differences between men and women as represented in the Arabic commentaries on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, currently the subject of a research project at the University of Manchester. The gynaecological aphorisms and their commentaries, written by male authors, reflect centuries of ancient and medieval thought on women and their bodies. Ibn al-Quff (d. 1286), al-Kilānī (14th century) and other contributors to the Arabic exegetical tradition have plenty to say on the subject of the female body and its pathologies. They discuss, for example, the question of why women are never “ambidextrous” and the various ways that female bodies resemble or differ from male bodies. They also discuss the possible existence of female testicles and semen, as well as the manner in which a “manly woman” or “womanly man” may result from the manner of the in-between gendered person’s conception. The blending and separation of “male” and “female” in these Arabic debates resonate with the Greek medical tradition, and especially with the writings of the Greek physician Galen (d. c. 216 AD), elaborating on and sometimes challenging his influential commentaries. The rift between Galen and Aristotle (d. 322 BC), centring on the nature of the male and female contribution to the formation of an embryo, elicits much commentary from the Arab authors. The physiology of menstruation and lactation likewise invite commentary and debate. We show that the study of such discussions is pertinent not only to the history of medicine, but to representations of manliness and womanliness in a wide range of contexts and genres.
, Vol. 48, pp. 239 - 262