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Bull Hist Med. 2013 Winter;87(4):565-90. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2013.0064.

The invention of infertility in the classical Greek world: medicine, divinity, and gender.

Abstract

The article examines the understandings of, and responses to, reproductive failure in the classical Greek world. It discusses explanations and treatments for non-procreation in a range of ancient Greek medical texts, focusing on the writings of the Hippocratic Corpus, which devote considerable energy to matters of fertility and generation, and places them alongside the availability of a divine approach to dealing with reproductive disruption, the possibility of asking various deities, including the specialist healing god Asclepius, for assistance in having children. Though the relations between these options are complex, they combine to produce a rich remedial array for those struggling with childlessness, the possibility that any impediment to procreation can be removed. Classical Greece, rather than the nineteenth century, or even 1978, is thus the time when "infertility," understood as an essentially reversible somatic state, was invented.

PMID:
24362276
PMCID:
PMC3904772
DOI:
10.1353/bhm.2013.0064
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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