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Whose Fault is it Anyway? Plant Infertility in Antiquity

  • Laurence M.V. Totelin
Chapter

Abstract

Historians who study infertility tend to focus – quite naturally – on human females. Studying the same issue in relation to plants, however, can offer new insights into the question and help challenge assumptions, especially since ancient women were often compared to fields awaiting fertilization. In this chapter, I examine the ways in which ancient scholars explained plant infertility; that is, a plant’s inability to bear fruits to maturity (rather than the complete inability to produce seed). Farmers were usually seen as responsible for this infertility; they lacked the knowledge and skill to make their crops fructify. Thus, while the female earth was the (in)fertile principle in plant generation, the ultimate blame fell on the male farmer. I argue that the same principle applied in human generation: men were by nature infertile – they could not carry children to maturity – but they had a crucial role in helping women to become fertile and make their family flourish.

Keywords

Ancient medicine Botany Metaphors of infertility Plant fertility 

Research Resources

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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