Wandering womb

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Wandering womb was the belief that a displaced uterus was the cause of many medical pathologies in women. The belief is first attested in the medical texts of ancient Greece, but it persisted in European academic medicine and popular thought for centuries. The wandering womb as a concept was popularized by Dr Edward Jorden, who published The Suffocation of the Mother in 1603. Suffocation of the Mother was the first text on the subjects of the wandering womb and hysteria that was written in English.[1]


Soranus of Ephesus, another second century CE physician, opposed the theory of the "wandering womb". In a description of what he labelled "hysterical suffocation" – suffocation arising in the uterus – Soranus wrote, "the uterus does not issue forth like a wild animal from the lair, delighted by fragrant odors and fleeing bad odors, rather it is drawn together because of stricture caused by inflammation". Where Aretaeus used the more neutral "living thing", Soranus used the term for "wild beast", therion. Galen also insisted that the uterus was stationary and that symptoms were due to substances being retained inside it. This suggests that Aretaeus was unusual among physicians of his period in believing in a mobile and animate womb. Despite the fact that Soranus was an influential writer on gynecology, and that Galen was the Greco-Roman medical writer with the greatest overall influence on Medieval and Renaissance medicine in Europe, the belief in the "wandering womb" continued for centuries, for example in Edward Jorden's influential 1603 treatise on the supposed bewitching of 14 year-old Mary Glover.[2]

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