Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ Πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.
Focus on it. Teleios, as commonly translated, means “perfect,” thereby putting this line from Jesus’ antitheses in Matthew 5 as “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48) However, this translation is surely less than perfect as the original Greek teleois has a much different connotation of wholeness and completeness that happens at something’s end. Just as God, the Father, is whole, free from the pain and anxiety of fragmentation, and perfectly put together, Jesus inspires his disciples to live their lives with this air of completeness, as if they had already reached their final destination. One can see echoes of this important biblical word in modern genetics, with telomeres. When chromosomes are translated or replicated they inevitably will lose part of each end of the strand. In order to prevent coding DNA from being lost in this process telomeres, or noncoding end DNA, is put on either side of a strand in order to preserve the genetic material that keeps us healthy and alive. As telomeres get depleted or weak, cellular destruction results from the degrading DNA, and thus we see bodies undergo the slow process of aging and decay. Just as biological vocabulary and Matthew 5 suggests, we understand some direction, some objective, some ending perfect place for us, be that death, with God, etc. From this idea comes the word telos, used both by ancient and contemporary authors to mean the life goal of a being, the perfect place at the end of their trajectory.
After a month’s worth of excavating the female bodies of ancient Greece and Rome, I would wish to culminate this phase of the research looking at the ultimate medical goal, the telos of the ancient Mediterranean female. After so much degradation of femininity and validating female oppression, both physically and socially, there must be some overall objective in mind of these physicians. Today, we will look at the goals that ancient gynecologists have set for the female body – the methods by which Hippocrates, Aristotle, Soranos, Galen, etc. have informed womanhood to redeem themselves from repugnance, instability, and uselessness that was ancient Mediterranean femininity.
To better our understanding of the feminine telos, we will first approach the outlined goals of the male body. In his innate state, the ancient Mediterranean male body was hot, dry, compact, and full of potential to reach great degrees of athleticism and physical perfection. To be masculine was to be penetrative, in all physical, emotional, and societal senses, and impenetrable; Galen outlines the inverse relation of masculine and feminine reproductive organs, thereby implying that male-initiated intercourse acted to complete a part of the female body that was missing. This transcended its anatomical dimension, and – as Deut. 22 suggests – the phallus begins to adopt an aggressive attitude, to the objective of both physically and emotionally breaking women. With a woman’s eruptive, animalistic, and primitive body expressing her uncontrollable and hypersexual spirit, there emerged an urgency for ancient Mediterranean men to tame and cure their female counterparts via penetration and, hopefully, impregnation. This leads to an interesting masculine telos, when considering Aristotle’s one-seed model (See “One-Sex” Model), in which societal responsibility is assigned to men to procreate to maintain a sense of earthly and cosmological order. Moreover, part of being a man, if not the main objective of manhood, was to generate life. This telos exposes a new characterization of ancient masculinity: immortality. The God of Genesis creates “man in His image” from the earth, and therefore the subsequent generation of man from Adam serves as a physical immortalization of God’s image, if we consider human women as the metaphoric earth that nourishes the regenerative image of the man that impregnated her. The female body, therefore, is an ephemeral tool, an unfortunate necessity to the masculine cycle of life that keeps alive the eternal, earthly image of God, the physical reminder of what we looked like in paradise.
Very rarely will a male gynecologist of ancient Greece or Rome describe the ways in which a female can fulfill her earthly purpose; rather, we must ascertain her societal expectation through the cracks of her broken body image. Considering imagery of the wandering womb and other animalistic characterizations of the female body (See The Wandering Womb, Broken and Barking Bitches,and Little Lamb, who made thee?), women were expected to suppressed their (supposedly) inherent desires of reckless sexuality and evanescence. With this, virginity develops into a valued characteristic of the female body, as it implies “rational” self-control, pristine female anatomy, and pure flesh for gestation of the male seed. With its not-yet-penetrated status, physical perfection, rationality, and dryness, the pre-menarcheal, virginal female becomes greatly characterized as a masculine entity. However, with the evolutionary need to produce the next generation, and the unspoken male need to fulfill his sexual desires, keeping females in a perpetual virginal state would not be pragmatic; similarly, as virginal women experience menarche, their bodies no longer reflect the dry and compacted perfection of masculinity, and thus the womb becomes a threat to the female body and the order of the cosmos. This constructs a maternal telos to the female body, in which conception and childbearing becomes means of redeeming the post-menarcheal, dangerous physical state. The supposed taming of the wandering womb that comes from the moistening of insemination and the anchoring of gestation reflects a pregnant woman’s difficultly in running away and further engaging in promiscuous sexual behavior. This image of the weakened, immobilized pregnant female body surely no longer bears the masculine characterizations of the virginal female body, but rather serves as a model by which women can best perform their femininity, as passive tools of masculine domination.
I am of the belief that we are all purposeful.
I am not of the belief that we all have a singular purpose.
Let us empower one another to remove the concept of the telos from our cultural vernacular.