Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Trotula of Salerno

(11th century)

It is believed that Trotula lived sometime in the eleventh century in Salerno in southern Italy and that she occupied the chair of medicine at the School of Salerno. At that time Salerno was famous as a spa and health resort. Its hospitals had a world-wide reputation and the first medical school was established there. Many women were trained as physicians and were professors of medicine.

Trotula was one of the most famous physicians of that time. Her main interest was to alleviate suffering of women. She was the author of many medical works, the most notable being Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. She wrote it to educate male medics about the female body, because such knowledge was generally lacking.

The book comprises sixty three chapters and gives information about menses, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, as well as general diseases and their treatments. The majority of remedies are herbs, spices, oils and of animal origin. She recommended long convalescences and a positive attitude whenever possible.

She claimed that both men and women could have physiological defects that affected conception. To admit that a man could be responsible for infertility was a daring notion at that time. She also described the use of opiates to dull the pain of childbirth. This practice was strictly against the teachings of the church, which maintained that women should suffer childbirth without any relief.

Trotula's other book, De Aegritudinum Curatione, or De Ornatu Mulierum was known as Trotula Minor. Her work influenced physicians in the following centuries. Some scholars dispute that Trotula was a woman, or that she even existed.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1996.

References:
1. Women Healers: Portraits of Herbalists, Physicians, and Midwives by Elisabeth Brooke, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1995
2. Larousse Dictionary of Women, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse, 1996

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