Project (2018)

Rewriting Women’s Bodies in Medieval Medical Epistemology

Between 1300 and 1500, medieval Western Europe witnessed an unprecedented increase in the production and circulation of medical literature. Healthcare texts in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and in the vernaculars were copied, abridged, and commented upon to satisfy the needs of new audiences. Laywomen and men, as well as a variety of learned scholars and medical practitioners, favored the elaboration of new texts and the writing of modified renderings of earlier treatises. This significant renewal of the medical corpus took place within a successful epistemological framework—humoralism—that proved to be flexible enough to be adapted by a great diversity of cultures that were nonetheless capable of sharing a basic understanding on the workings of human bodies and their treatment.

My project intends to explore the malleable quality of humoralism during this important period where medical knowledge intensified its presence and permeated new social spaces. In particular, I focus on one crucial concern of the Western medical corpus: women’s health. My goal is to investigate the extent into which rewriting techniques—summarizing, commenting upon, compiling, translating—function as devices to advance the development and expansion of knowledge claims on the female body and their treatment. On the one hand, I analyze how by closely commenting upon ancient texts learned Latin scholars were able to elaborate new interpretations of the pathology of the female body within the humoral frame. On the other hand, by focusing on the Catalan case I try to assess the impact of the phenomenon of vernacularization—and its central focus on rewriting techniques—on the corpus on women’s health.