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Conference papers

Extraordinary Births in the 16th century

Abstract : The idea of birth has stimulated imaginations since the beginning of time, but especially during the period we call the Renaissance. At this ‘dawn of modernity’, ‘early modernity’ as commonly termed in the anglophone academy, physicians begin to pay scientific attention to gynaecology and obstetrics. But, also, humanists of the period take an ever more intense interest in the way that human beings are made, even to the point that they dream of the making of a new kind of Man. Doctors meditate on births considered monstruous, as in the case of Ambroise Paré, or unnatural, as with Jean Liébault, or artificial, as recounted by François Rousset in his 'Treatise on Hysterotomokie or Caesarian Birth'. At the same time some writers, like Boccaccio, Rabelais, or Béroalde de Verville, depict near-comical pregnancies or births, and chronicles report cases of pregnant men.   This period also sees theologians questioning the birth of Christ, or Eve, and when demonologists become obsessed with witches’ wombs, even with the demonic nails that they were reputed to generate. Naturalists believe in the “spontaneous generation” of bees; alchemists, like Paracelsus, try to create 'homunculi' in vials… Finally, among artists as well as authors, metaphors of procreation, fertilization and childbirth are omnipresent: Michelangelo, Leonardo di Vinci, Filarete, Erasmus, or Montaigne, offer just some examples among many.   My purpose is to study, in the light of some of these extraordinary births, what one might call the “humanist maieutics” or the “obstetric paradigm” of the Renaissance. In conclusion, a discussion could be held on current techniques, such as Assisted Reproductive Technology, or more futuristic ideas of the artificial uterus or clone: elements of transhumanist dreams of renouncing sexual reproduction, and generating a superior humanity.
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Contributor : Irène Salas Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Wednesday, July 27, 2022 - 12:06:53 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 3, 2022 - 1:02:31 PM


  • HAL Id : hal-03739373, version 1



Irène Irena Salas. Extraordinary Births in the 16th century. Conference, guest speaker, University of Minnesota, College of Liberal Arts, Department of History, Apr 2023, Minneapolis, United States. ⟨hal-03739373⟩



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