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Patty Baker

Complex perceptions existed about abortion in the ancient world, indicated by different medical definitions of what constituted an abortive, contraceptive, and expulsive. According to Soranus (1st/2nd century ce) an abortive was “that which destroys what has been conceived”; a contraceptive (atokion) was something that prevents conception, and an expulsive (ekbolion) could be defined in two ways (Gyn 1.59–65). Some thought it was synonymous with an abortive because both resulted in the termination of a pregnancy. In contrast, others defined an expulsive strictly as shaking and leaping to dislodge the fetus from the womb. In explaining this, Soranus (Gyn 1.60) repeats a story told in the Hippocratic work (see hippocrates) Nature of the Child (13, L7.488–490; late 5th bce) about a dancing girl thought to be six days pregnant. She was told to expel the seed by jumping up and down so her heels touched her buttocks. After the seventh leap, the fetus dropped from her body. This technique for early-stage abortion was preferable to termination caused by pharmaceutical preparations and surgical intervention, which could cause harm to the mother. Therefore, Soranus stated that it was safer to prevent pregnancy than to perform an abortion (Gyn 1.