by Rit Nosotro
First Published:: 2003
Doctor at the University of Salerno and pioneer of women's diseases
"Stay at the temple tonight. Pray to Apollo. Sacrifice. Perhaps he will have pity and spare your child." Such could have been the words spoken by a physician in Ancient Greece. God used the great physicians Hippocrates and Galen to bring medicine out of always attributing every illness to the mood or judgment of false gods. Later, He used the monasteries to take care of the poor and sick, during a period of little or no scientific and medical exploration. Medicine expanded with those such as Trotula, who lived in the 1100's and helped equip doctors to better care for their female patients. Trotula believed a male society could not be expected to know how to treat the special cases of women. Her life reflects this belief.
Trotula, sometimes called Trota, was born in the eleventh century, perhaps around 1097 AD. With her husband, Johannes Planterius, and their two sons, she lived in Salerno, Italy. Salerno boasted one of the world's first universities with its medical school, The University of Salerno, where Trotula and her husband were both doctors. The medical heroes of the day were still Hippocrates and Galen, even though both had died over eight hundred years before. Doctors followed and taught the teachings of these physicians, and virtually never researched on their own.
The medical situation up to Trotula's time was of few medical experiments and discoveries. Monasteries had been the center of any medical education, but this was mostly informal. Monks cared for the sick along with the poor. They copied and translated the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen into Latin. These works became important references to doctors and professors in spite of the authors' many errors. In the south of Italy, Arab theories exercised some influence.
Little is known about Trotula's life. She was one of the only female doctors, and quite likely the first female professor of medicine. Trotula is most famous for her written works on various women's diseases. She writes at the beginning of one of her works now known as Medieval Woman's Guide to Health,
Because there are many women who have numerous diverse illnesses and because they are also ashamed to reveal and tell their distress to any man, I therefore shall write somewhat to cure their illness…
Doctors of the day believed in Galen's theory. All of the body's functions must balance with the seasons, the elements, and the person's mood in order for him to have good health. In her writings, Trotula stressed the importance of keeping clean, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and leading an over-all low-stress life. For several hundred years, doctors followed her teachings.
Considering the medical situation, Trotula was a modern thinker. She saw the problems women faced and sought solutions through her own experiences and knowledge. Evidently, she saw that sickness and disease usually did not come from the imbalance of body fluids, but of more natural causes like the absence of an important type of food.
This famous woman doctor also believed that women were cursed when sin entered the world. She believed women were more vulnerable to diseases and more likely to catch sicknesses than men. Her works therefore majored on obstetrics and gynaecology. Truly, God did curse women in Eden (Genesis 3:16). He told Eve he would make it painful for her to bear children(Genesis 3:16). However, does this mean all women of all time are plagued with numerous diseases? No. When sin entered the world, it brought with it sickness and death for all mankind, not only to women.
Trotula helped to improve knowledge in the medical area. Her research helped doctors in an area not covered by Hippocrates. God used her in his magnificent plan to care for his entire creation.
Quoted in N.M. Heckel, "Sex, Society, and Medieval Women", Rossell Hope Robbins Library Exhibition, <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/medsex/trotula1.htm>, September 21, 2004.
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