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Aëtius on Clitoridectomy

Translation copyright 2000 Mary R. Lefkowitz; all rights reserved.

362A. Clitoridectomy. Roman Egypt, sixth cent. A.D. (Aëtius 16. 115, written in Greek). According to the Greek geographer Strabo (first cent. BC), the Egyptians were noted "for raising all their children and for circumcising the males and for performing excision (ektemein) on the females, as is the custom among the Jews" (17.2.5).(1)

The so-called "bride" (clitoris) is like a muscular or fleshy structure located near the upper closure of the lips of the vagina, in the place where the urethra is located. In some women it becomes enlarged, increasing the female organs in size, and causes inappropriate behavior and disgrace. Also when it is rubbed continuously beneath the clothes it arouses the woman, and encourages her to engage in sexual intercourse. Accordingly, the Egyptians thought it best to remove it completely, at the time when young women were about to be married.

The surgery is accomplished as follows. Let the young woman be seated on a stool. Have a strong young man stand behind her and place his hands on her thighs, so that he can control her legs and her whole body. Have the surgeon stand opposite and let him draw out the clitoris with his left hand by grasping it with a wide-mouthed forceps; have him cut the clitoris off with his right hand at the tip of the forceps. It is appropriate to retain a portion of the cut-off organ, so that only the excess is removed. I have said that the excision takes place at the tip of the forceps, because the clitoris is fleshy at that point and can be stretched as far as possible, and so that a hemorrhage will not occur, as in the case of the more extensive excision used to remove a tumor.(2)

After the surgery one should use wine or cold water to stop the wound from bleeding, and wipe the wound off with a sponge and sprinkle powder on it, and moisten a compress with vinegar and apply it, and put a sponge moistened with vinegar on top of it. After the seventh day sprinkle the lightest camomile on it, along with rose petals, or genital medicine dried with pumice stone {?}. And this also is good: burn the stones of date palms and grind them and sprinkle on the dust, and do this also for wounds in the genitals.

1. Cf. D. Montserrat,"Mallocouria and Therapeutria: Rituals of Transition in a Mixed Society?," Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 28 (1991): 48; Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt (London: Kegan Paul, 1996) 41-2

2. Cf. the following excerpt from a 1989 interview with Aisha Abdel Majid, a Sudanese woman working as a teacher in the Middle East, quoted by Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, "Unmasking Tradition, " The Sciences 38.2 (March/April 1998) 23, about her excision at age six some forty years earlier. "The women ordered me to lie down on a bed [made of ropes] that had a hole in the middle. They held me tight while the midwife started to cut my flesh without anesthetics. I screamed till I lost my voice...After the job was done I could not eat, drink or even pass urine for three days. I remember one of my uncles who discovered what they did to me threatened to press charges against his sisters. They were afraid of him and they decided to bring me back to the midwife. In her sternest voice she ordered me to squat on the floor aud urinate. It seemed like the most difficult thing to do at that point, but I did it. I urinated for a long time and was shivering with pain. It took a very long time [before] I was back to normal. I understand the motives of my mother, that she wanted me to be clean, but I suffered a lot."

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