As unbelievable as it seems, Humanity imagined up until the middle of the XVIIth Century that children were made either according to Aristotle’s description, or that of Hippocrates.
For the greatest doctor of Antiquity, the foetus is quite simply the result of a mixture of male and female semen. The female, like the male, distills a semen which comes from all parts of her body, but most particularly from the brain. According to Hippocrates, this explains the delicious sensations that are felt in all of the organs during copulation.
Unlike Hippocrates, the phallocratic Aristotle considers that the liqueur dispensed by the woman during copulation is deprived of any essence of life. The role of the woman in the penetration is therefore reduced to supplying menstrual blood which, in coagulating, will serve as food for the foetus, while her abdomen will supply a lodging for the embryo placed there by the man. That she is only “assuring shelter and food” for the little human, as Pierre Darmon puts it.
Rene Descartes wrote a Traite de l’Homme et de la Formation de Foetus that is a model of obscurantism. He takes literally the ideas emitted just two thousand years before him. He writes:
“The foetus is, at the origin, only a confused mixture of two liqueurs that heat and dilate each other, by this means disposing themselves to form members, beginning by making a heart by boiling [bouillonnement].”
This French rationalist also thinks that, in any case, it is the man who contains the foetus, and the role of the woman is totally secondary. A bit like a vivandiere when the army of males has won the battle…
The germ, however, takes its own life from the ether, from the spirit or spirits that float in the air… And this is why the imagination of pregnant women, connected to the floating spirits, is able to transform the child that they are carrying…
In the heart of the XVIIIth Century, the Century of Light, right on the eve of the French Revolution, appears a treatise by Benjamin Bablot on the power of the imagination of pregnant women. Like a lot of other doctors, Bablot upholds that if a pregnant woman touches a cat, a mouse or a weasel, she must very quickly wipe her hand to avoid the foetus taking on the form of the animal in question.
Swammerdam, although a naturalist and a physiologist of great talent, recounts with unperturbable seriousness that, around 1660, a pregnant woman was frightened by the sight of a “nigger”. She rushed to her bathroom to wash herself with very hot water and, thanks to this wise precaution, the child was born white. Alas!… the creases in its hands and feet, that the water had not been able to reach, were all black…
It is only at the end of the XVIIth Century that the great anatomist Reinier de Graaf emits the hypothesis that women could well carry their own semen in the form of eggs. In his Nouveau Traite des organes genitaux de la femme, he formulates, to the great scandal of one part of his contemporaries, the following daring hypothesis:
“I claim that all animals, and even Man, originate in an egg, not an egg formed in the matrix by the semen, in Aristotle thinking, or by seminal virtue, following Harvey, but from an egg which exists before the copulation in the testicles of the females.”
So women carry eggs… They are like hens?… Voltaire, who remains dry on the mysteries of generation, resorts to irony, that is to say, however he can.
“Woman is only a white hen in Europe, and a black hen in Africa!…”
Already marked by the disrepect of the new ideas, the ovist thesis had been raising reserves of a totally different order, a few years before.
“It’s contrary to the Scriptures”,
the whole of the world of believers had then protested.
Doctor Pierre Roussel, who is on the side of the Hippocrates thesis, finds that ovism offends the dignity of women, and the theologians chime in to say that if ever anyone discovers eggs in his wife’s ovaries, it could only be the result of a prodigy of Satan.
Eggs? This is badly digested food, says a scholar of this epoch, while another estimes that this thesis is too favourable to women, which is totally insupportable. Others, on the other hand, are enthusiastic about the egg thesis. A Brest doctor swears in 1684 that he has just seen a woman who is seven months pregnant give birth to a big serving dish of eggs.
“I saw some too”,
affirms Doctor de Houppeville in a brochure that appears in Rouen at the same epoch.
“But it’s the devil to get them out without breaking them… particularly with virgins!…”
To be continued.