Congenital Malformations Through the Ages

  • Josef Warkany
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 27)


Since earliest times women and men have been much impressed by births of deformed and monstrous infants. Stories of such unusual births probably were transmitted through oral tradition from one generation to another and from one tribe to another, giving rise to myths and tales of imaginary creatures. Some of the figures of Greek and Roman mythology may have their origin in observations of deformed children. Legends of primitive peoples of the past were seldom preserved, but there are rather recent stories from the natives of Oceania that deal with congenital malformations (1). For instance, there exists a legend in Samoa of twin girls “who were not separated but were joined together by their backs. After many years....the girls had grown up....they were startled in their sleep, and rushed from the house, each one by a separate door. The door post separated their bodies so that they were parted asunder....” A legend from Papua tells about a boy who was the foster son of “twin women who were joined fast together, flesh and bone, by the buttocks...”, so that “....when they would walk, the one must go forward and the other backward...” The boy saw how awkwardly the two women were joined together; “so while they slept at night, he took a bamboo and prised a sliver off it, with an edge sharper than any knife, and so neatly cut away the one from the other that both slept soundly the while, feeling no pain, and in the morning got to their feet, two separate women.” Thus the legend of Papua not only describes conjoined twins (pygopagus) but also a legendary surgical procedure which separated the conjoined twins (1). These stories exemplify legends passed on orally by primitive peoples but it is clear that legends of this type are seldom preserved. They are lost unless they are recorded by methods that are more durable than stories passed on by the spoken word.


Congenital Malformation Cleft Palate Cleave Palate Congenital Malforma Genital Malformation 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • Josef Warkany
    • 1
  1. 1.The Children’s Hospital Research Foundation and the Department of Pediatrics College of MedicineUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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