The Conception:

The bodies of Ancient Greek women were erupting. Discharge, menstruation, lactation, lachrymation, childbirth: their insides were violently pouring and ripping out, according to Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Soranus, the male pioneers of gynecology and obstetrics in the 5th Century BCE – 2nd Century CE Greece. Whether through the description of childbirth as dirty and animalistic or the depiction of female anatomy as the deformed counterpart to male anatomy, these early “masters” of OB/GYN constructed the female body to be inferior and pollutable and her bodily processes to be inhuman and uncontrollable, with parturition at the lowest rank. As the Gospels of the first century CE and Infancy Gospels of the New Testament in the third century CE emerged, the introduction of Mary – the Virgin Mother of the Messiah – brings about a revolutionary depiction of the Female, as pure and divine. This research project does not necessarily seek answers the mysteries of Mary’s existence, nor does it seek to criticize the validity of Mary’s immaculate conception. Rather, by virtue of juxtaposing Mary’s story with the medical understanding of women that preceded and proceeded her, I hope to improve our current understanding of what Mary may have meant to her Greek audiences in Late Antiquity: does Mary’s immaculate conception empower women or reinforce the subordinate status of the female body? how does Mary’s unattainable dimension of “purity” serve as an ideal for women and mothers? prevented from experiencing the pleasures of sex and the pains of birth, to what extend would audiences of the time consider the Virgin to be a woman (or even human for that matter)? how does Mary’s depiction comment on the construction of gender to the Greek Audience? My primary hope from this research is to develop such conversations, with the greatest consideration of the ancient medical, male perspective of women.