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Women's medicine in antiquity


Childbirth and obstetrics in Classical Antiquity (here meaning the ancient Greco-Roman world) were studied by the physicians of ancient Greece and Rome. Their ideas and practices during this time endured in Western medicine for centuries and many themes are seen in modern women's health. Gynecology and obstetrics were originally studied and taught mainly by midwives in the ancient world, but eventually scholarly physicians of both sexes became involved as well. Obstetrics is traditionally defined as the surgical specialty dealing with the care of a woman and her offspring during pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium (recovery). Gynecology involves the medical practices dealing with the health of women's reproductive organs (vagina, uterus, ovaries) and their breasts.

Midwifery and obstetrics are distinctly different but overlap in medical practice that focuses on pregnancy and labor. Midwifery emphasizes the normality of pregnancy along with the reproductive process. Classical Antiquity saw the beginning of attempts to classify various areas of medical research, and the terms gynecology and obstetrics came into use. The Hippocratic Corpus, a large collection of treatises attributed to Hippocrates, features a number of gynecological treatises, which date to the classical period.

During the era of Classical Antiquity, women practiced as doctors, but they were by far in the minority and typically confined to only gynecology and obstetrics. Aristotle was an important influence on later medical writers in Greece and eventually Europe. Similar to the writers of the Hippocratic Corpus, Aristotle concluded that women's physiology was fundamentally different from that of men primarily because women were physically weaker, and therefore more prone to symptoms caused in some way by weakness, such as the theory of humourism. This belief claimed that both men and women had several "humours" regulating their physical health, and that women had a "cooler" humour.



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