Macquarie University
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Through the oculi of Pliny the Elder: a gendered representation of Roman women as patients and healers

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posted on 2022-03-28, 12:24 authored by Melinda A. E. Ryan
The study of ancient medicine has been the primary occupation of many recent scholars of ancient history. However, very little of that scholarship has focused on the efficacy of ancient pharmacopeia and even less has further concentrated on medical remedies related specifically to the female sex. The encyclopaedic wonder that is Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis, abounds with hundreds of remedies and observations principally concerned with women's health. These passages specifically examine the 'everyday life' aspect of treating women's medical conditions, from menstruation through to motherhood. This thesis analyses and interprets a well -rounded collection of these references utilising socio-cultural and post-structuralist methodologies to determine how female healthcare was viewed in ancient Italy. It also briefly examines the roles available for imperial women to practise medicine in both a domestic and non-domestic setting. It is necessary, particularly during this age of gender equality advocacy, to attempt to provide a voiceto an otherwise silent group of women. This thesis demonstrates the idiosyncratic representation of women as both patients and healers as sen through the work of an elite Roman male who lived in a predominantly patriarchal society.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One: Ancient notions of menstruation -- Chapter Two: Methods of birth control and fertility management -- Chapter Three: The miracle of life - Pregnancy and childbirth -- Chapter Four: Childrearing remedies -- Conclusions


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 90-99

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Peter Keegan


Copyright Melinda A. E. Ryan. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (vii, 103 pages)

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