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Ancient Infertility: Gender, Responsibility and Action, Rebecca Flemming

Rebecca Flemming

Infertility was a major concern in the ancient world, where family continuity was a fundamental aim for all sections of society, an aim pursued in conditions of very high infant mortality. Doctors and divinities, laws and states, all took an interest in encouraging and assisting the production and maintenance of healthy children.

This seminar focuses on a key problematic within this wider field, one with obvious modern resonances. That is the tension between the medical understanding of shared responsibility for the inability of a married couple to produce offspring, that the cause could be the man, the woman, or the combination of the two, and a social and legal framework which was all about his children. It was the husband’s family line that was at stake here. Divorcing a wife who had failed to procreate thus made sense, for example, but was it fair? It might not be her fault, and the obligations of marriage were not solely bound up with the generation of children. But what other courses of action were available? These issues are openly debated in some of the declamations—fictional court speeches—that survive from the Roman Empire, and these will be read alongside some medical material.
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When and Where

Map Angell Hall - 2175 - Classics Library

January 2019

10:00am - 12:00pm

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