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A Five Year Pregnancy? Women in the Epidaurian Iamata

Calloway Scott

This paper treats gendered constructions of the suppliant, or “patient,” in the Epidaurian iamata —a corpus of roughly 70 (47 complete and 23 fragmentary) short narratives detailing the miraculous cures performed by Asklepios (published as IG IV2 1, 142-44). I examine the assumptions about women and women’s diseases the inscriptions held, and show how these narratives structure the "ideal" female patient in a familial context. I go on to question to what extent these assumptions were shared with the authors of the (near contemporary) Hippocratic gynecological treatises. This approach ties together two popular branches within the study of Asklepios’ cult. The first has sought to recover more fully the motivations behind the iamata’s display, and to determine the possible function(s) of the iamata narratives themselves (Dillon 1994, LiDonnici 1992 and 1995, King 1998). The second seeks to refine our understanding of the cultural and intellectual relationships between Hippocratic and temple medicine. Since the Edelsteins (1945) and G.E.R Lloyd (1979), historians of medicine and religion have observed that the Asklepios cult and Hippocratic medicine were not necessarily hostile to or exclusive of one another, and that temple medicine displayed an awareness and incorporation of Hippocratic praxis (Parker 1996, King 1998, Wickkiser 2008, Nutton 2011). Thus this paper contributes to discussions about religion and gender within systems of ancient health care.    
    While Dillon (1994) and King (1998) have shown that women are underrepresented in the iamata generally (we find 13 female hiketai compared to 34 male in the complete accounts), I identify a clear differentiation both in the kinds of concerns held by male and female suppliants and in the ways the narratives construct gender. Women, in particular, are characterized by a concern for healthy childbirth (e.g. A1, A2, B11, B14, B19, B22). The anxiety about childbirth tallies with the broader social and political expectation that women produce the next generation of (male) citizens, an anxiety whose ritual expression is familiar within the broader scope of Greek religion. Men, on the other hand, suffer from a much wider variety of ailments, some of which relate directly to the male, agonistic spheres of war and athletics (A12, A15, B9, B10, B12, B18, B20, C15). It is, however, especially remarkable and significant that, despite the iamata’s numerical skew favoring men, the corpus begins with two stories of Asklepios bringing fantastical pregnancies to term (for the pregnancies as the marked beginning of the corpus, see LiDonnici 1995, 24f). In the first case, Kleo, who has been pregnant for 5 years, sleeps within the abaton, and once outside the temenos gives birth to a (now 4 year old) boy, who proceeds to wash himself and follow his mother about the temple grounds. Similarly, the second iama records the healthy completion of a three year pregnancy. It is clear from the very first, then, that the iamata associate women not with nosos nor other forms of injury or illness, but principally with the birth of healthy children. Further, several instances where women did not undergo ritual sleep in the abaton for the sake of childbirth are marked by vague internal disorders, such as B5 where Sostrata has “beasts” (theria) within the stomach/womb (gaster), which hold obvious connections to reproductive issues. Thus, the iamata narratives seem designed to allay women’s fears about pregnancy by displaying the god’s success rate as an obstetrician, but they also advertise a normative view of the relation between the female suppliant and the god, and so promote a particular kind of female patient. I propose that women did not frequent the Epidaurian Asklepieion for reasons similar to men, but almost entirely within the context of the family (cf. B1, in which a women incubates on behalf of her sick daughter). Finally, I suggest that these representations agree with Hippocratic notions that women are, medically, different from men in a fundamental way (King 1998, 27f), and which connect women’s diseases with the womb.

Session/Panel Title

Fertility/Birth

Session/Paper Number

12.2

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