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Sperm and Blood, Form and Food. Late Medieval Medical Notions of Male and Female in the Embryology of Membra

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Chapter Summary

The central question in this chapter is: what connections existed between generation and nutrition in the embryology of spermatic and sanguinary membra in late medieval academic medicine, and how these connections function in the construction of notions of male and female in early physiology. As the learned physicians of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries studied embryology within a thoroughly Aristotelian framework, some attention is given to the links between the two physiological processes in Aristotle's writings. As sources, the author uses commentaries on the chapter discussing membra in Avicenna's Canon. Next, the physicians discussed Avicenna's passages on the nourishment of the embryo after its original formation, and apparently these remained close to their own basic ideas on the order of the world. The learned medical authors equated the female principle in conception, female sperm or menstrual blood, with food.

Keywords:Aristotle; Avicenna; Canon; embryology; late medieval academic medicine; menstrual blood; nourishment; sanguinary membra; spermatic membra



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