The Hippocratic Corpus: A Wandering Uterus and Fox Possession

The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of dozens of Ancient Greek texts which were originally attributed to Hippocrates but were actually written by several unknown authors from the sixth through the fourth centuries B.C.E.  The writings contain an astonishingly wide range of descriptions of bodily functions, ailments of different body parts, and cures for diseases.  The section entitled “Diseases of Women,” for instance, describes the uterus which the physicians believed did not stay in one part of a woman’s body but instead wandered around causing great pain and discomfort.  Movements of the uterus within the body can include towards the head, the heart, the liver, the hips, or the bladder (137 L—translation of the Ancient Greek is my own):

Of all the diseases pertaining to the uterus that come about for a woman, I say this: whenever the uterus is set in motion away from its space, sometimes falling in one direction and sometimes in another direction, and where it comes to fall, causes this spot severe bodily pain.  And if it comes to fasten itself to the bladder, it causes bodily pain and does not accept urine, and it does not draw in any seed to itself.  And if both uterus and bladder suffer, and if a swift release does not come about, then in time the uterus will rot in that same spot and it will wither away.

As I was reading Christine Wunnicke’s latest book, The Fox and Dr. Shimamura, the author’s descriptions of women who were said to be possessed by a fox seemed eerily similar to the wandering womb described by the Hippocratic physicians.   In Wunnicke’s mythical, mystical, and at times bizarre tale, a late nineteenth-century Japanese doctor is sent to remote areas of the Shimane prefecture to cure women of fox possession. The book begins at the end, as Dr. Shimamura’s career as a renowned neurologist has passed, and his memories of curing fox possession and other forms of female hysteria are told in a feverish state from his sick bed. His hazy memories also bring us through his time in Europe, where he meets and studies with other famous doctors, Charcot and Breuer, who have an interest in ailments that particularly affect females.

For my complete review of The Fox and Dr. Shimamura and the connections between fox possession and Ancient Greek medicine, please follow this link to the Music & Literature website:   http://www.musicandliterature.org/reviews/2019/3/27/christine-wunnickes-the-fox-and-dr-shimamura

Thanks to Taylor and David, who were a true pleasure to work with, for publishing my piece.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Hippocratic Corpus: A Wandering Uterus and Fox Possession

  1. Goodness! I really don’t like the sound of that wandering uterus… such a strange concept men had of women’s bodies…. 🤣🤣😱

    Liked by 1 person

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