Girls will be...boys?

Well, this one will certainly test the sensibilities of our gentle Wonders and Marvels readership! Remember: It's important to look history straight in the eye.

Or in this case, the private parts.

From Antiquity and well into the late eighteenth century, humoralist modes of anderstanding dominated medical practice and anatomical theory.
Humoralism was associated with Galen, a second-century ACE Greek physician who lived in Rome. His work was substantially influenced by his predecessor Hippocrates.

Galen held that the body was governed by a system of fluids, of "humors": blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile. Each body had a "complexion" that was specific to the individual--and reflected a greater tendency toward one of the four humors. Men had a humoral complexion that tended toward "hot and dry." Women considered humorally "cold and wet." They were also seen as defective version of a more perfect male body.

Because a man’s body was hotter, his reproductive organs stayed more comfortably outside his body. Colder, female reproductive organs were instead tucked inside the body to maintain warmth. The vagina was therefore often represented an inverted penis and the ovaries as "female testicles" or "stones" in early medical illustrations.

For more on humoralism and the facts of life, be sure to head over to this post.

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Thomas Laqueur wrote the seminal work (I couldn't resist) on the One-Sex Model: Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud.

But academics love a good fight. And the reception of Laqueur's book started one of the best professorial boxing matches around about whether the one-sex model was as dominant as Laqueur claimed. So be sure to take a look at these:

Michael Stolberg, "A Woman Down to Her Bones: The Anatomy of Sexual Difference in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries." Isis 94 (2003): 274-299.

Winfried Schleiner, "Early Modern Controversies about the One-Sex Model Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000): 180-191.

And Laqueur's response...
"Sex in the Flesh." Isis 94 (2003): 300-306.

Image: Andreas Vesalius, De Humani corporis fabrica, 1543 (courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London).

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  1. Fascinating - 'complexion' changed through life I guess too - is that right? Phlegmatic old-age and all that? I've often wondered about this...and that word 'complexion' somehow makes it all make sense. Thanks Holly.

  2. Fascinating! I love tidbits like this. Sure am glad I was not born in that era, though!


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