The uterus is a hollow muscular organ that is situated within the pelvis. When the ovaries produce eggs, it travels through the fallopian tube. Once the egg is fertilized, it implants on the uterus lining. While we may know a lot about this organ today, back in ancient Greece, the uterus was assumed to be free-wandering within the body.
In ancient Greece, the uterus was thought to travel throughout the body like an animal looking for a mate, causing “hysteria” in women.
The Wandering Womb
Hysteria is derived from the Greek word hysterika, which means uterus. In ancient Greece, a restless and discontented Uterus was blamed for hysteria, the dreaded feminine affliction of excessive emotion. The symptoms of the disease were thought to be determined by the location of the problematic organ in the body. It was a societal belief, not a religious one.
Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, was one of the first to recognize this condition. He saw how common hysteria was in women and assumed it was caused by a misplaced or wandering uterus. The term hysteria was used to characterize most physical and mental female disorders because there was little understanding of women’s biology.
Women’s sicknesses were thought to originate in the womb by the Greeks. One Greek myth has a significant impact on this notion and the representation of women in Ancient Greece. That legend is about Pandora.
Gynecology began in ancient Greece with the myth of Pandora, the first woman, whose beautiful appearance was thought to conceal her poisonous insides. Pandora, who appears to male humanity as attractive and marriageable, poses a threat to the healer’s work because “her outside is deceptive, concealing the fact that her body contains a voracious womb.Terri Kapsalis
Pandora’s dangerous insides are her womb. We can relate this passage to Hippocratic corpus writings where the wandering womb was blamed for all illnesses. People in Ancient Greece thought a woman’s uterus traveled around her body.
Doctors offered a variety of treatments to entice the uterus back into place. Women were instructed to apply honey to their vaginal area and consume garlic cloves. The notion was that the sweet smell of honey would attract the uterus while the smell of garlic would repel it.
The doctor will press the womb down and then attach a bandage below the ribs to keep it from rising again if it has gone towards the liver. Other Hippocratic authors advised potions, fumigations, and hot and cold baths as cures. Sex and pregnancy, on the other hand, were the ultimate cures. It was thought that when a woman does not have intercourse, her womb becomes dry and is liable to become displaced. (Source: Literary Hub)
Hysteria Linked to the Devil
Beliefs in the supernatural and demonic were popular throughout the Middle Ages. It was considered the Devil’s work when doctors couldn’t explain a symptom or condition. Many diseases were blamed on witchcraft, possession, or association with the Devil, including hysteria.
Unfortunately, ladies suffering from hysteria were seen as witches rather than patients at the time. Exorcism was the therapy or punishment. This arose from the growing pains of a cultural shift: in the late Middle Ages, a more secular trend attacked Christianity, prompting inquisitions, witch hunts, and panic.
Women felt the impact of the anxiety. Because mental illness is so difficult to explain, melancholic or sad women were frequently accused. Women were regularly sentenced to death or torture for sorcery during this time because they were prone to interpersonal violence, and elderly women and widows often lament their lost loved ones. (Source: Literary Hub)