Gynaecological conditions do not warrant sympathy; after all, women are inferior to men. Shouldn’t they get what they deserve? Women are frigid and humid, whereas men have been gifted the stronger qualities – heat and dryness. The blame for women’s conditions should be placed on themselves, not on an external force. Since women are weaker by nature, they must face the consequences. These conditions which exclusively impact women are shameful and embarrassing. One should never discuss such downfalls in public; this only happens in a private setting. Men serve a far greater role in society in comparison to women whose greatest contribution is giving birth to a child. If a woman cannot conceive, she is useless to society.
We are extremely fortunate to live in an era where these impressions are no longer accepted; however, this displays a glimpse of how women’s health was viewed in pre-Modern society.
The Trotula was the most influential compendium surrounding women’s medicine within Medieval Europe. It is composed of three separate texts – one of which focuses on the conditions of women. Unsurprisingly for the time, Conditions of Women, is assumed to be written by a man. However, this has been widely contested with the author of the text believed to be the 12th century female physician Trota. The Trotula reflects indigenous practices from Southern Italians which stem from the Arabic world. Hippocrates and Galen influenced most of the diagnoses and treatments outlined in the book. All aspects of medical practice in the Middle Ages, including the ones discussed in The Trotula, revolve around the theory of humourism of the four humours – blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. It was believed that the predominance of certain humours determined the traits and fragility of men and women. Women were assumed to have an excess of black bile and phlegm which caused them to be cold and wet. Contrarily, men we believed to have an excess of blood and yellow bile leading to their powerful defining characteristics – heat and dryness.
The Trotula was very advanced for its time, however, many conditions have been evaluated and altered over the past centuries. An example of an ailment discussed in, Conditions of Women, is ‘descent of the womb’. The text indicates that sometimes a woman’s womb moves, and descends, occasionally going all the way out through the vagina. An abundance of cold humours inside from cold air entering or childbirth is indicated as the cause. Additionally, sitting upon a cold stone, or taking a cold bath are said to be potential causes of ‘descent of the womb’.
The book not only describes gynaecological conditions and causes, but also suggests treatment methods. For ‘decent of the womb’ The Trotula recommends that, “if the womb has come out, let aromatic substances be mixed with juice of wormwood, and from these things let the belly be anointed with a feather.”  The causes seem very obscure, and the methods suggested appear extremely ineffective when we consider them now; however, this information was revolutionary for physicians during the Middle Ages and was in line with medieval medical thinking and understandings of the body.
Even though many diagnoses have been altered since the Middle Ages, there are some conditions and causes that align with medical views today. For example, The Trotula states, “the womb is tied to the brain by nerves.” Detailed scientific explanations were not available at the time, but the idea that the body is connected by nerves is undeniably true. Although it was not named, the text also refers to menopause, and how once women reach a certain age they will no longer menstruate. The Trotula is written based exclusively on visible symptoms and observations as the Church did not allow human dissections in this period. Medieval physicians also lacked the advanced medical technology we have access to today in order to accurately diagnose and treat conditions. Additionally, the theory of humourism, which The Trotula is closely based on, is no longer an accepted scientific theory. However, The Trotula does provide us with a fascinating insight into the medieval understanding of women’s bodies and women’s health.
Cassi is a first year Health Studies student at Bader College, Queen’s University (Canada).
 Monica H. Green, The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).
 Megan Dickerson, ‘Medieval Attitudes to Women’s Medical Conditions found in The Trotula’, Ancient Origins Reconstructing the Story of Humanity’s Past (May, 2021), <https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/trotula-0015369 2021> last accessed 29th May 2023.
 Green, p. 72.
 Ibid, p. 73.
 Ibid, p. 86.