Galen’s Nymphs

  • Camille Nurka


This chapter argues that the clitoris would be the first vulval organ to gain notoriety for hypertrophy, as recorded in the ancient Greco-Roman literature. Labial hypertrophy did not become a problem until the labia minora were described and taken seriously as a distinct anatomical structure by Renaissance anatomist Vesalius. It took many centuries between classical Greece and the Renaissance for medicine to acquire a richer and more precise scientific vocabulary for the female genitals by which labial hypertrophy could appear as a new and distinct form of female ailment within the gynaecological sciences. With the progress of scientific descriptive method, the labia minora were assigned a commonly understood denotative appellation: ‘nymphae’. Only then did physicians suggest theories as to physiological function and elaborate upon what they perceived to be atypical labia minora. Chief among such cases were elongated nymphae that were large enough ‘to hang without the Labia pudendi’. The labour that physicians put into describing the parts in their ‘normal’ situation and recording cases of ‘abnormality’, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, formed the beginnings of a new genital norm. At the same time, these pioneers had also developed a language of genital diversity, which has now all but disappeared from the contemporary clinical literature on hypertrophy of the labia minora.


Hourly Labia Minora Labial Hypertrophy Vesalius Clitoris 
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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Camille Nurka
    • 1
  1. 1.Mount WaverleyAustralia

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