Saturday, June 14, 2008
The Expert Midwife, 1637
People often ask me, "Sarah, what were the worries and anxieties of early modern peoples?" The answer: Pretty much everything. Early modern peoples not only had to deal with weird stuff that they couldn't explain, when they did get an explanation it usually went something like "God hates us and we're all going to hell because you are all dirty dirty sinners." The best example of this situation is an old favorite on LOL Manuscripts: monstrous births.
The Expert Midwife, or and Excellent and most necessary treatise on the generation and birth of man is a manual teaching people how to assist with pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The best parts of the book are the illustrations of contorted babies in wombs. The "cure" for all these problematically positioned fetuses is usually something along the lines of "just yank it out." The book closes (as should all books about pregnancy) with Chapter III: "of Unperfect children, also of monstrous births." Here is the explanation that accompanies the above image:
"In the yeere 1512 at Ravenna a monster was borne, which had a horne on his head, two wings, no armes, a crooked foot with talons, like a ravenous bird, an eye on his knee, of both sex, in the midst of his breast he had the forme of the Greeke letter Ypsilon, and the Figure of a Crosse. Some interpreted this thing after this manner, That the horne did signifie pride, the wings ficklenesse and inconstancy, the want of armes to signifie a defect of good workes, the ravenous foot, rapine, usury, and all kinde of covetousnesse, the eye on his knee, to portend a respect and regard alone to earthly things, and that hee was of both sex, to signify filthy Sodomy. Moreover, that at the time Italy was so afflicted with the ruines and miseries of warre, because of these sinnes" (158).
Don't you feel better about the abomination now? It was just a grotesque physical manifestation of the sins of the community! I must wonder what 17th century scholars would make of this real unicorn? (I knew they were real!!1!)
Also, while perusing the book I came across other fun illustrations that I have fashioned into this greeting card. Send it to the next person you find has been inseminated! She'll love the detailed drawings of the birthing stool and various speculums and forceps.
The interior could read: "Here's to a healthy pregnancy and a quick delivery. A baby is such a blessing! But not a flying unicorn bird baby. They do not augur well. Hope you haven't done anything sinful lately."