Hippocrates: Unmarried Women are Sad Because of Periods

Hippocrates of Cos, On Girls [Peri Parthenôn] 1

“Let’s talk first concerning the disease which is called sacred and paralyzed people and the many anxieties which frighten people seriously enough that they lose their minds and believe that they see evil spirits by night or even at times by die or sometimes on all hours. Many have hanged themselves before because of this kind of vision, more often women than men.

For a woman’s nature is more depressed and sorrowful. And young women, when they are at the age of marriage and without a husband, suffer terribly at the time of their menstruation, which they did not suffer earlier in life. For blood collects later in their uterus so that it may flow out. When, then, the mouth of the exit does not create an opening, the blood pools up more because of food and the body’s growth. When the blood has nowhere to flow, it rises up toward the heart and the diaphragm. When these organs are filled, the heart is desensitized and from this transformation it becomes numb. Madness overtakes women because of this numbness.”

Πρῶτον περὶ τῆς ἱερῆς νούσου καλεομένης, καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀποπληκτικῶν, καὶ περὶ τῶν δειμάτων, ὁκόσα φοβεῦνται ἰσχυρῶς ἄνθρωποι, ὥστε παραφρονέειν καὶ ὁρῆν δοκέειν δαίμονάς τινας ἐφ᾿ ἑωυτῶν δυσμενέας, ὁκότε μὲν νυκτός, ὁκότε δὲ ἡμέρης, ὁκότε δὲ ἀμφοτέρῃσι τῇσιν ὥρῃσιν. ἔπειτα ἀπὸ τῆς τοιαύτης ὄψιος πολλοὶ ἤδη ἀπηγχονίσθησαν, πλέονες δὲ γυναῖκες ἢ ἄνδρες· ἀθυμοτέρη γὰρ καὶ λυπηροτέρη ἡ φύσις ἡ γυναικείη. αἱ δὲ παρθένοι, ὁκόσῃσιν ὥρη γάμου, παρανδρούμεναι, τοῦτο μᾶλλον πάσχουσιν ἅμα τῇ καθόδῳ τῶν ἐπιμηνίων, πρότερον οὐ μάλα ταῦτα κακοπαθέουσαι. ὕστερον γὰρ τὸ αἷμα ξυλλείβεται ἐς τὰς μήτρας, ὡς ἀπορρευσόμενον· ὁκόταν οὖν τὸ στόμα τῆς ἐξόδου μὴ ᾖ ἀνεστομωμένον, τὸ δὲ αἷμα πλέον ἐπιρρέῃ διά τε σιτία καὶ τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ σώματος, τηνικαῦτα οὐκ ἔχον τὸ αἷμα ἔκρουν ἀναΐσσει ὑπὸ πλήθους ἐς τὴν καρδίην καὶ ἐς τὴν διάφραξιν. ὁκόταν οὖν ταῦτα πληρωθέωσιν, ἐμωρώθη ἡ καρδίη, εἶτ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μωρώσιος νάρκη, εἶτ᾿ ἐκ τῆς νάρκης παράνοια ἔλαβεν.

Hippocrates should have consulted a woman physician like Trotula

One thought on “Hippocrates: Unmarried Women are Sad Because of Periods

  1. I actually don’t find the way that Hippocrates goes about examining this issue completely wild and ignorant. In a way, we can see what he is trying to do in scientific terms: he is trying to give an entirely physiological explanation for a set of psychological conditions, not spirits or witchcraft. He does this as a way to build a plausible, physiological explanation for why unmarried and non-reproductive women suffer from greater emotional and psychological problems. The status of being unmarried and not having children has negative psychological, physiological, and emotional impacts on individuals today and this would have been far, far greater in the ancient past. So what exactly is there to mock in this argument?

    Take a moment to investigate this issue of ‘depression and unmarried women’ and you’ll find dozens of peer reviewed articles published within a decade confirming the central argument that Hippocrates makes.

    To quote the conclusion of one article, published in 2017, by the journal European Psychiatry

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924933817318606

    “Results
    The findings of this research were:

    – emotional problems are the most common problems experienced by unmarried women;

    – the present study indicates the presence of depressive symptoms in 17%, which can evolve toward psychotic depression as dysthymia (loss of interest in daily activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, self-criticism, trouble concentrating and trouble making decisions, effectiveness and productivity, avoidance of social activities, feelings of guilt and worries over the past, insomnia…);

    – the impact of unmarried on late stages have more negative impact, and psychological effect on them was more severe and the greatest harm.”

    Let’s give Hippocrates his due, he identified clear and persistent issues that impacted unmarried, non-reproductive women and was trying to find a rational, biological component that could explain their development outside of pure religious explanation. Impressive if you ask me.

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