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Instructor: Mariska Leunissen. This course meets T 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. in CW 208.

Topic: Aristotle’s Gynaikeia

In this course we will examine Aristotle’s natural scientific study of women and motherhood in the context of contemporary ancient Greek perspectives on gunaikeia (‘women’s things), such as evidenced especially in early medical texts, in tragic representations of mother-wives, and in political proposals concerning eugenic programs to be realized in ideal cities. The course will roughly follow the biological stages the ancients deemed significant in the transition of women from parthenos (unmarried girl) to gunê (woman/wife), starting with menarchê and beliefs about women’s menstrual periods; the debate about the necessity of female sexual pleasure for conception; women’s alleged knowledge of when they conceived; their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth; and finally, the importance of breastfeeding and the maternal bond.

In analyzing these topics we will try to reconstruct what Aristotle knew about these topics, but more importantly also how he knew (or thought he knew) about these topics. Questions to be considered are: What kind of gynecological evidence was available to Aristotle and how did he evaluate it? Whom did he regard as experts on women’s bodies and experiences, and did he include women themselves? And what strategies or methods did Aristotle have available to him in making ‘the invisible visible’ when it came to women’s private experiences or to phenomena related to their sexuality, pregnancy, and motherhood in general, especially when those phenomena where not available to him as a male perceived and/or clouded by shame?

Primary readings will draw mainly from Aristotle and the Hippocratic Corpus, but we will also read some Presocratics, Euripides, and Plato. Secondary readings will include chapters of my book manuscript on this topic supplemented by other key publications on the study of women and motherhood in Antiquity. Some background in ancient philosophy is recommended; all texts will be read and discussed in translation.


PHIL graduate students: Please refer to #9 in our Handbook for further information regarding distribution requirements.

Permission of the instructor is required to enroll in this course. PHIL grad students are exempt from this enrollment requirement.