By Anna Kathryn Lanier
First, my apologies for not posting a blog on Seduced by History since May. I have had a very difficult summer, which I won’t go into, but I look forward to posting my monthly blogs for now on…hopefully, life will cooperate with my plans!
Today, I am writing about Trotula, also known as Trotula di Ruggiero, Trotula Platearius, Trota and Trocta, a medieval female physician who wrote several influential works on medicine, the most prominent of which is known as Trotula Major, a book on Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum ( The Diseases of Women). Another work Practica Secundum Trotam was of general medicine. She also wrote about skin diseases and herbal treatments. All of these medical journals have been revised, revisited, referred to, plagiarized and used for more than five hundred years. But who is Trotula?
Born in the 11th century, Trotula attended and then practiced medicine at Salerno, Italy’s world-famous medical school. She married John Platearius, also a physician and their two sons, Matteo and John, also practiced medicine. Matteo later wrote about his mother, careful to point out that she was a university-trained doctor, not a common midwife. Salerno’s medical school, though, was known to admit and train women, something pretty much unheard of in the medieval times.
Trotula’s specialty was obstetrics and gynecology. She advocated the use of opiates during labor, something not only frowned upon by the Church, but considered a sin, as women were to suffer the pains of child birth because of Eve’s sin. She also, radically, advocated that men could be the cause of a couple’s infertility and would prescribe hormonal treatments (made from animal testicles) for both infertility and menstrual irregularities.
She offered a great deal of advice for childbirth, giving instructions on normal delivery, breech birth and stillbirth. Trotula pioneered surgical techniques for the repair of the perineum, often torn during childbirth and taught others how to do the surgery.
She was also well-known for restoring, sort of, a woman to a state of virginity. During the time she lived, it was important for young, high-born girls to be virgins on their wedding night. However, then as now, it was hard for some girls to keep their adolescent hormones under control. When the all important wedding night approached, the girls would turn to Trotula for advice. While it doesn’t appear she perfected a surgical technique to repair the hymen, she did find ways to ‘fake’ virginity. One such way was to use a leech in the, uh, delicate area. It was often used the day before the wedding to produce bleeding. It was important, however, to keep track of the leech, so it did not get lost in its wanderings and to not use it too long and risk the loss of too much blood.
After women were no longer allowed to be educated in higher learning, a century or so later, it soon became the rumor that Trotula, the woman, never lived let alone wrote such well-informed medical journals. She had to have been a man, because a woman, delicate creature that she was, would never discuss in such frankness the workings of the female body. Besides, women just weren’t that smart. This rumor abounded for a while, but recent scholars who have studied her works, now claim she was a real person, a woman and that she wrote the works attributed to her.
4,000 Years of Uppity Women by Vicki Leon
Anna Kathryn Lanier