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Medicine and Anatomy

346. Dislocation of the womb. (Hippocrates, Nature of Women 8, 3=VII 322-4, 314-6 Littré. G)

(8) If her womb moves towards her hips, her periods stop coming, and pain develops in her lower stomach and abdomen. If you touch her with your finger, you will see the mouth of the womb turned towards her hip.[1]

When this condition occurs, wash the woman with warm water, make her eat as much garlic as she can, and have her drink undiluted sheep's milk after her meals. Then fumigate her and give her a laxative. After the laxative has taken effect, fumigate the womb once again, using a preparation of fennel and absinthe mixed together. Right after the fumigation, pull the mouth of the womb with your finger. Then insert a pessary made with squills; leave it in for a while, and then insert a pessary made with opium poppies. If you think the condition has been corrected, insert a pessary of bitter almond oil, and on the next day, a pessary of rose perfume. She should stop inserting pessaries on the first day of her period, and start again the day after it stops. The blood during the period provides a normal interruption. If there is no flow, she should drink four cantharid beetles[2] with their legs, wings and heads removed, four dark peony seeds, cuttlefish eggs, and a little parsley seed in wine. If she has a pain and irregular flow, she should sit in warm water, and drink honey mixed with water. If she is not cured by the first procedure, she should drink it again, until her period comes. When it comes, she should abstain from food and have intercourse with her husband. During her period she should eat mercury plant, and boiled squid, and keep to soft foods. If she becomes pregnant she will be cured of this disease ...

(3) When her womb moves towards her liver, she suddenly loses her voice and her teeth chatter and her colouring turns dark. This condition can occur suddenly, while she is in good health. The problem particularly affects old maids and widows-young women who have been widowed after having had children.

When this condition occurs, push your hand down below her liver, and tie a bandage below her ribs.[3] Open her mouth and pour in very sweet-scented wine; put applications on her nostrils and burn foul-scented vapours below her womb ...


Notes:

1. In recent times women's backaches, pains, and depression were sometimes attributed to a 'tipped' uterus, though now these symptoms can usually be traced to other causes. Pessaries and/or surgical suspension are now used to alleviate symptoms traceable to a malpositioned uterus.

2. According to Pliny the Elder, Natural History 29.95, ground-up cantharid beetles were used to induce menstruation (and presumably also abortion), and also as a diuretic. This dangerous medicine, known as 'Spanish fly', has been used in small quantities as an aphrodisiac in modern times, though apparently not in antiquity. Cf. Davies, 1986 93.

3. Simon, 1978 239, compares the 'ovary compressor' used by J.-M. Charcot in the 19th cent.; cf. Veith 1965, 232.