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Mother and child

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  • 1. MOTHER AND CHILD IN THE GREEK WORLD Historical Perspectives on womanhood and children in the ancient world


  • Who or what was a woman during the time of the ancient Greeks?
  • What were the common ways and means related to womanhood?
  • What status did they have?
  • What were the commonsense beliefs on conception, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, and perils of womanhood?
  • What is a child in ancient Greek society?
  • Did children have any significance in the Greek society?


  • On value of women:
  • On Virgins by Hippocrates 4 thcentury BC...
  • Unmarried girls at menarche are liable to become delirious and to throw themselves down wells and drown, since the menstrual blood cannot properly flow until the orifice of egress has been openedup through intercourse. Unable to find release, the blood settles around the heart and becomes a burden to the body, producing heaviness, torpor and insanity...my prescription is that virgins should marry as soon as possible...if they become healthy they are cured...if not, then at puberty or shortly afterwards they will succumb....


  • More male doctors , less female midwives
  • Primary procreating function of the male sperm over female womb
  • a. Eumenidesof Aeschylusmother is not the parent of that which is called the child, but only nurse of the newly implanted seed. It is the one who mounts who is the true parent


  • b.Myth of Zeus 1 stwife MetisZeus upon learning that his wife is pregnant was advised by Ouranus & Gaia to swallow her otherwise she bears a child that would be mightier than its father( Athena, the child)
  • c. Birth of Dionysius sewn as an embryo to Zeus thigh which implies the perception that male can function after females function is done.
  • d. AristotlesHistory of Animals - stated that male is instrumental in enducing labor pains


  • - from SoranusGynaecology-conception is most likely when ones period is coming to an end and after taking little food; must be sober during intercourse otherwise the offspring will be deformed.
  • -Hippocrates- environmental elements determine conception exposure to hot wind and hard water results to barrenness, miscarriages, and hardening of breast.
  • -strenuous activity prevents conception
  • -food conditions the uterus-beans and water made into a dough as contraceptive measure.


  • - extended pregnancy is possible( a misconception of amenorhea)
  • - Hippocrates Obstetrics:
  • On test for pregnancy water mixed with honey
  • To determine sex of the unborn healthy complexion means male; poor complexion means female
  • How to cure infertility excessively thin women can easily miscarry; excessively fat women cannot conceive
  • Health of the embryo if mothers breast is hard it is healthy;if milk flows plentifully then it is unhealthy
  • On test for fertility-cover her with blanket and burn perfume beneath her. When the scent passes through her body up into her mouth and nostrils, the she is not sterile


  • -home delivery- unassisted by doctor; done by midwives calledmaia
  • - maiaasks mother to seat upright on a stool with a crescent-shape cut into it; calms the mothers fear; draws the amniotic sac with forefinger of left hand then catches infant in a towel; revives mother with scents


  • - Childbirth was so risky partly because standards of hygiene were so inadequate, and partly because majority of mothers were still pubescent when they first gave birth(age 14 or 15). Miscarriages were extremely common as were the deaths of women in labour.


  • - Generally despised and summed up in the Hippocratic oath, I will not give to any woman a pessary to cause abortion
  • -selective abortion only for health risk, adultery, or aesthetic recovery reasons
  • -How? Walking about energetically and be shaken by draught animals; or leap violently or carry things which are too heavy.


  • Abortion is done only after authorization from father to ensure father, not the mothers rights.
  • Abortion is permissible only before the fetus received life and feeling(Aristotle)- fear of increasing population and not much on the concern for the right of the unborn.
  • Abortion pollutes household- abortion of fully developed unborn heavily pollutes, while that of less developed fetus lightly pollutes only.


  • Termination is least likely through abortion otherwise there will be blood-guilt
  • Resorted instead toekthesisor exposure where a child will be brought to a desolate place to be left to die of cold and lack of food or be devoured by beasts.
  • Q: what validated such immorality and cruelty to children


  • Girls were abandoned far more frequently than boys:
  • -girls are more expensive to be brought up than boys
  • -range of jobs for girls are limited
  • -when they get married, substantial dowry is needed(lower class)
  • Possidipus, if you have a son, you bring him up, even if you are poor, but if you have a daughter, you abandon her, even if you are rich


  • Who decides whether to abandon child or not?
  • FATHER since he owns the child
  • Proofs of infanticide
  • 1.Inscriptions in Miletus Turkey where a noticeable low number of female as membes of population;
  • 2.Presence of mercenaries whose tasks were to ensure the listing of names to account for citizenship;
  • 3. Legality of abandonement of handicapped in Sparta,the life which nature had not provided with health and strength was of no use either to itself or to the state


  • OnEkthesisand membership to the family
  • -the decision whether to put down a child had to be done before the 10 thday from birth because right on the 10 thday a membership ceremony had to be performed.
  • AMPHIDROMIA - membership ceremony which sought guidance from Hestia, the goddess of hearth(fireplace fire as purificant & fireplace as center of home)


  • Why the need to purify the child? to ensure that the childs birth has not polluted the community at large.
  • Why was there the idea of polluting or uncleanliness in childbirth? Greeks believed that a woman giving birth is unclean both in the physical and religious sense.


  • -main cause: perpetual warfare among Greeks
  • - Orphanosfatherless child further indicates prejudice against the status & importance of mother in Greek social thinking.
  • -In Athens orphans of those who died in war were taken care of the state until they come of age, but those left behind by parents who died of disease or accident were not necessarily taken care by the state.


  • -mothers generally nursed but if well-off, a nurse is contracted
  • -nurse must be self-controlled, sympathetic, well-tempered, and Greek nursing is a simple transmission of character.


  • 1.Greek myth, Greek philosophy and Greek medicine all combine to produce an image of the mother which to modern eyes emphatically suggests an undervaluation of women.This interpretation is suggested most strikingly by the perception of the female as biologically defective and subservient organism whoseproper functioning requires the intervention and subservience of male; and for the low emphasis placed on ties of affection which our society are believed to exist naturally between a motherand her child.


  • 2. Consequently, there has been very little and insignificant portrayal of mother and child theme before the 10 thcentury of Christianity revealing the irrelevance of such theme in Greek artistic tradition.

21. Thoughts to ponder

  • Are the forgoinganalysis of details of Greek society relative to women and children really reflective of the weak capabilities of women?
  • Could it not be that such views may have been the necessary result of the all-too frequent occurence of child death which may have also been the reason for the dearth of artistic representations of mother and child?
  • Could it also be that the Greek medical ascriptions on women were their means of expressing their compassion towards the great biological constraints inherent to women?
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