The Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages

The Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages : Medicine, Science, and Culture

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Description

In describing and explaining the sexes, medicine and science participated in the delineation of what was 'feminine' and what was 'masculine' in the Middle Ages. Hildegard of Bingen and Albertus Magnus, among others, writing about gynecology, the human constitution, fetal development, or the naturalistic dimensions of divine Creation, became increasingly interested in issues surrounding reproduction and sexuality. Did women as well as men produce procreative seed? How did the physiology of the sexes influence their healthy state and their susceptibility to disease? Who derived more pleasure from intercourse, men or women? This book explores how scientific ideas about sex differences in the later Middle Ages participated in the broader culture's assumptions about gender. Cadden discusses how medieval natural philosophical theories and medical notions about reproduction and sexual impulses and experiences intersected with ideas about such matters as the social roles of men and women, and the purpose of marriage.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 328 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 19mm | 480g
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 7 Halftones, unspecified
  • 0521483786
  • 9780521483780
  • 975,729

Back cover copy

In describing and explaining the sexes, medicine and science participated in the delineation of what was "feminine" and what was "masculine" in the Middle Ages. Hildegard of Bingen and Albertus Magnus, among others, writing about gynecology, the human constitution, fetal development, or the naturalistic dimensions of divine Creation, became increasingly interested in issues surrounding reproduction and sexuality. Did women as well as men produce procreative seed? How did the physiology of the sexes influence their healthy states and their susceptibility to disease? Who derived more pleasure from sexual intercourse, men or women? The answers to such questions created a network of flexible concepts which did not endorse a single model of male-female relations, but did affect views on the health consequences of sexual abstinence for women and men and on the allocation of responsibility for infertility - problems with much social and religious significance in the Middle Ages. Sometimes at odds with, and sometimes in accord with other forces in medieval society, medicine and natural philosophy helped to construct a set of notions that divided significant portions of the world - from the behavior of animals to the operations of astrological signs - into "masculine" and "feminine". Even cases that seemed to exist outside the definitions of this duality, for example, hermaphrodite features or homosexual behavior, were brought under control by the application of gendered labels, such as "masculine women".
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Table of contents

Introduction; Part I. Seeds and Pleasures: The Evolution of Learned Opinions: 1. Prelude to medieval theories and debates: Greek authorities and their Latin transformations; 2. The emergence of issues and the ordering of opinions; 3. Academic questions: female and male in scholastic medicine and natural philosophy; Part II. Sex Difference and the Construction of Gender: 4. Feminine and masculine types; 5. Sterility: the pursuit of progeny and the failure of reproductive function; 6. Is sex necessary? The problem of sexual abstinence; Conclusion.
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Review quote

"...presents medical and scientific views on such subjects as male and female reproductive roles, the causes of sex determination, sexual pleasure, and feminine and masculine types, as well as on two concrete problems, sterility and sexual abstinence....sets itself apart from previous scholarship in a number of ways. The author is extraordinarily sensitive to nuances and pluralities of meanings, paying close attention to rhetorical strategies that reveal underlying cultural assumptions and to questions of imagery and genre." Margaret Schleissner, Isis "Joan Cadden has written a very learned, informative and thoughtful study of the origins and development of medieval learned opinion about sex difference. For once, the elusive and complex nature of medieval ideas on the subject is portrayed without oversimplification or anachronism." Nancy G. Siraisi "...built on impeccable scholarly bases....can now serve as a text of reference for all matters having to do with scientific or medical aspects of sexuality or sex difference." Monica Green, Society for Ancient Medicine Review "...Joan Cadden has carefully and systematically explored a great wealth of texts from the Latin medical tradition of the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries...[she] has raised high-scholastic medicine to a level of visibility formerly enjoyed only by theologians such as Thomas Aquinas." John Baldwin, Journal of the History of Sexuality "Joan Cadden breaks new ground in a little-explored area in medieval studies: sex differences and the reasons given for them....[T]his well-written yet heavily documented book...can easily be read and understood by those who are not medievalists or medical historians. In short, it represents scholarship at its best." Vern L. Bullough, American Historical Review "...Cadden's book is a first-rate piece of scholarship. It is based on wide reading in source material, in printed as well as manuscript form. Medical and natural philosophical writings are covered in depth, and their treatment is enriched by examination of non-scientific sources--literature, court cases, sermons. [Cadden] moves easily from the particular to the general and back again, presenting a convincing case that 'the definitions and properties of female and male represented a principle which, at least partly, ordered the world'." Helen Rodnite Lemay, Speculum-A Journal of Medieval Studies "Joan Cadden...manages to honor the richness and complexity of medieval ideas about sexuality while also writing with great lucidity and intelligence....Cadden's great achievement in this book has been to take a voluminous amount of material and, while respecting its complexity and diversity, draw some compelling conclusions about the nature and development of that material. This is an important book both for the conclusions it draws and the model of exemplary scholarship it offers." Wendy Chapman Peek, Journal of the History of Medicine "Meticulously researched and documented...Cadden discusses these ideas with great clarity and sophistication, locating them not only in the intellectual tradition, but also in the context of assumptions concerning family, marriage, and spiritual achievement that structured the lives of Christian elites...Her treatment emphasizes the intellectual flexibility and cultural variety of medieval views of sex difference, while never obscuring the way in which those views all agreed in typing the female as marginal, inferior and incomplete." Katharine Park, The Journal of the History of Biology "...a welcome and much-needed addition to the vast scholarship on the roles of women in the Middle Ages that has been published in recent years....This book will stimulate discussion in many fields. This historian of medieval Christianity finds Cadden's ideas wonderfully suggestive for further exploration of religious topics....Students in other fields of history will find that this erudite book opens many doors of historical imagination." E. Ann Matter, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
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