Bodily Fluids in Antiquity  book cover
1st Edition

Bodily Fluids in Antiquity

ISBN 9780429438974
Published April 26, 2021 by Routledge
452 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

From ancient Egypt to Imperial Rome, from Greek medicine to early Christianity, this volume examines how human bodily fluids influenced ideas about gender, sexuality, politics, emotions, and morality, and how those ideas shaped later European thought.

Comprising 24 chapters across seven key themes—language, gender, eroticism, nutrition, dissolution, death, and afterlife—this volume investigates bodily fluids in the context of the current sensory turn. It asks fundamental questions about physicality and fluidity: how were bodily fluids categorised and differentiated? How were fluids trapped inside the body perceived, and how did this perception alter when those fluids were externalised? Do ancient approaches complement or challenge our modern sensibilities about bodily fluids? How were religious practices influenced by attitudes towards bodily fluids, and how did religious authorities attempt to regulate or restrict their appearance? Why were some fluids taboo, and others cherished? In what ways were bodily fluids gendered? Offering a range of scholarly approaches and voices, this volume explores how ideas about the body and the fluids it contained and externalised are culturally conditioned and ideologically determined. The analysis encompasses the key geographic centres of the ancient Mediterranean basin, including Greece, Rome, Byzantium, and Egypt. By taking a longue durée perspective across a richly intertwined set of territories, this collection is the first to provide a comprehensive, wide-ranging study of bodily fluids in the ancient world.

Bodily Fluids in Antiquity will be of particular interest to academic readers working in the fields of classics and its reception, archaeology, anthropology, and ancient to Early Modern history. It will also appeal to more general readers with an interest in the history of the body and history of medicine.

Table of Contents

List of figures

List of tables





Mark Bradley, Victoria Leonard, and Laurence Totelin


Part I

The language of fluidity

1. Fluid vocabulary: flux in the lexicon of bodily emissions

Amy Coker 


Part II

A woman in flux

2. A valid excuse for a day off work: menstruation in an ancient Egyptian village

Rosalind Janssen

3. Uterine bleeding, knowledge, and emotion in ancient Greek medical and magical representations

Irene Salvo

4. Puellae gently glow: scent, sweat, and the real in Latin love elegy and Ovid’s didactic works

Jane Burkowski

5. Overflowing bodies and a Pandora of ivory: the pure humours of an erotic surrogate

Catalina Popescu


Part III

Erotic and generative fluids

6. The eyes have it: from generative fluids to vision rays

Julie Laskaris

7. ‘Infertile’ and ‘sub-fertile’ semen in the Hippocratic Corpus and the biological works of Aristotle

Rebecca Fallas

8. Say it with fluids: what the body exudes and retains when Juvenal’s couple relationships go awry

Claude-Emmanuelle Centlivres Challet

9. Flabby flesh and foetal formation: body fluidity and foetal sex differentiation in ancient Greek medicine

Tara Mulder

10. One-seed, two-seed, three-seed? Reassessing ancient theories of generation

Rebecca Flemming

11. Phalli fighting with fluids: approaching images of ejaculating phalli in the Roman world

Adam Parker


Part IV

Nutritive and healthy fluids

12. A natural symbol? The (un)importance of blood in early Greek literary and religious contexts

Emily Kearns

13. Taste and the senses: Galen’s humours clarified

John Wilkins

14. Breastmilk, breastfeeding, and the female body in early Imperial Rome

Thea Lawrence

15. Breastmilk in the cave and on the arena: early Christian stories of lactation in context

Laurence Totelin


Part V

Dissolving and liquefying bodies

16. Tears and the leaky vessel: permeable and fluid bodies in Ovid and Lucretius

Peter Kelly

17. Seneca’s corpus: a sympathy of fluids and fluctuations

Michael Goyette

18. Bodily fluids, grotesque imagery, and poetics in Persius’ Satires

Andreas Gavrielatos


Part VI

Wounded and putrefying bodies

19. ‘Efflux is my manifestation’: positive conceptions of putrefactive fluids in the ancient Egyptian coffin texts

Tasha Dobbin-Bennett

20. Physiology of matricide: revenge and metabolism imagery in Aeschylus’ Oresteia

Goran Vidović

21. Open wounds, liquid bodies, and melting selves in Early Imperial Latin literature

Assaf Krebs


Part VII

Ancient fluids: afterlife and reception

22. The reception of Classical constructions of blood in Medieval and Early Modern martyrologies

Anastasia Stylianou

23. ‘Expelling the purple tyrant from the citadel’: the menstruation debate in book 2 of Abraham Cowley’s Plantarum libri sex (1662)

Caroline Spearing

24. Opening the body of fluids: taking in and pouring out in Renaissance readings of Classical women

Helen King


Mark Bradley and Victoria Leonard



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Mark Bradley is Professor of Classics and Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nottingham, UK. Together with Shane Butler (Johns Hopkins University, USA), he is editor of a series of volumes on ‘The Senses in Antiquity’ for Routledge, for which he has contributed a volume on Smell and the Ancient Senses (2015).

Victoria Leonard is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities at Coventry University, and at the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London. Her research focuses on the late antique and early medieval western Mediterranean. She has published on religious conflict, gender and violence, and ancient historiography.

Laurence Totelin is Reader in Ancient History at Cardiff University, UK. She has published widely on Greek and Roman botany, pharmacology, and gynaecology.


"This carefully curated collection of essays offers the first comprehensive treatment of bodily fluids in premodern Mediterranean cultures from a variety of socio-cultural, historical, scientific, linguistic and semiotic perspectives. This landmark volume shows how, despite the different functions and symbolic valences of bodily fluids, they nevertheless constitute an identifiable conceptual category in the ancient and early modern mind."

- Ralph M. Rosen, University of Pennsylvania, USA


"Bodily Fluids in Antiquity is not a book (just) for medical historians: there is something for everyone, cultural historian, literary critic, linguist, or the simply curious. An unforgettable immersion in the liquid dimension of human bodies." 

- Caroline Petit, University of Warwick, UK