Mother and Child in the Greek World

Women were evaluated principally as child bearers and child rearers in the male-orientated world of ancient Greece, but not without dignity or compassion.

In Greek society the supreme value placed upon women was as a reproductive machine. Their culturally determined role was reinforced by medical lore which taught that a woman who did not engage in sexual intercourse could (in the words of HM Government) seriously endanger her health.

According to a treatise entitled On Virgins ascribed to the famous Greek physician Hippocrates of Cos, who lived in the fourth century BC, unmarried girls at menarche are liable to become delirious and to throw themselves down wells and drown, since the menstrual blood cannot properly flow until the 'orifice of egress' has been opened up through intercourse. Unable to find release, the blood settles around the heart and becomes a burden to the body, producing heaviness, torpor and insanity. The cure was straight-forward. 'My prescription', Hippocrates continues, 'is that virgins should marry as soon as possible when they experience these symptoms. If they become healthy, they are cured. If not, then at puberty or shortly afterwards they will succumb, unless some other ailment carries them off.'

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