Contraception And Abortion Essay, Research Paper
Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance by John Riddle, is a book that tries to make sense of the historical records related to birth control. The historical medical records that Riddle looked at for his book were from the classical and medieval periods. Riddle says how surprised and struck he was by the number of oral contraceptives and abortifacients that were mentioned in the records. For the most part classical and medieval birth control methods have been regarded as magic and superstition. Such methods have been universally agreed upon to be ineffective, because they simply could not have worked. Through his study of the records, Riddle has learned that our distant ancestors may have known more about reproduction than we have credited them with. Dismissing the practices and methods as magic and superstition is too simple. In his study, when something is denoted in the records to be magic, Riddle will give mention to but not analyze. By magic, Riddle means something that is nonscientific such as objects worn in superstition to prevent pregnancy or chants and utterances made for the same reason. In his study Riddle uses modern science to determine the validity of historical practices. He takes into account what modern medicine, botany, pharmacy, pharmacology, demography, and anthropology have to say on the records (Riddle viii). Contraceptives have been used by hundreds of generations by people faced with the same problems of today s society. Riddle hopes that we can learn from the past and realize that our times are not quite as unique as we think they are.
The book begins with a discussion of how population and sex have been related over the years. Here Riddle looks at what methods existed to limit conception and birth. Riddle questions that if people had the normal biological urges for sexual intercourse but did not want to increase their numbers, how did they limit reproduction. Riddle examines seven factors of population control methods that existed in the Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages. In antiquity sexual restraint was ignored because there were no regulations on sexual activity. However, in the Middle Ages restraint and celibacy were very important largely do to the Christian condemnation of sexual activity. Comparing the two periods, one would expect to see a contrast in population size but it does not exist to the extent that would prove sexual restraint to be an effectively used method. Riddle also denounces the effectiveness other methods of the two periods had on population control such as Coitus Interruptus, because the effectiveness rest primarily with the will and cooperation of the male, condoms, because there is very little evidence to suggest that they were used at all, Rhythm, because sources seldom indicate its usage and ancient and medieval medical authorities all agreed that the most fertile period for conception was near the end or just after the menstrual period, vaginal suppositories, because their effectiveness was limited and insufficient to account for the demographic profiles. Riddle then goes in to extensive analyzation of abortion and infanticide in the two periods. Riddle says that the evidence in the sources of abortion being seen as dangerous causes modern historians to believe that to resort to them was avoided unless the situation was truly desperate. The various medical and social sources present little evidence that abortions were routinely employed for birth control (Riddle 10). In examining infanticide much emphasis is placed on sex ratios. The question is whether differentials in the ratios are evidence for extensive infanticide. Riddle says, Both recent evidence from the modern period and the historical records we possess from the distant past suggest they are not (Riddle 14).
In following chapters Riddle discusses the evidence that exists for oral contraceptives and abortifacients. The evidence for the concept and existence of contraceptives and abotifacients that were deliberately used is clearly and abundantly in the records (Riddle 17). Riddle draws evidence from the works of Plato and Aristotle. Evidence of oral contraception is also found in writings by Musonius Rufus, John Chrysostom, and Jerome from the first through third centuries. The Bible and Talmud also have evidence of oral contraception. Riddle next goes on to examine the practices and writings of Soranus, antiquity s foremost writer on gynecology. Soranus had a number of actual prescriptions for both vaginal suppositories and oral contraceptives. Many of Soranus s recipes called for the use of pomegranate, which has been proven by modern tests to indeed be a antifertility agent. In the following chapter, Terminology in Dioscorides’ De materia medica, Riddle examines the work of Dioscorides, the foremost authority on ancient pharmacy. De materia medica is a five book work published by Dioscorides in the first century. Riddle examines both the works Soranus and Dioscorides to determine which of the two had a better understanding of antifertility agents. What was determined, by comparing the ingredients that both Soranus and Dioscorides used in their antifertility agents with those of the modern day, was that the contraceptives recorded did have antifertility effects.
Riddle next goes on to examine how widespread the use of contraceptives were in the ancient world. He discusses such things as myrrh, Queen Anne’s lace, and pennyroyal all herbal ingredients used for their antifertility effects by women in the ancient world. Riddle also discusses contraceptives in the Talmud, ancient law and the fetus, and gives examples of roman literary references to birth control. The number of references found in these works clearly indicates a widespread knowledge of birth control agents. Riddle also includes an examination of Egyptian papyrus sources. These sources, dating from 1850 B.C. to 1300 B.C., have many fragmented recipes for oral contraceptives and vaginal suppositories.
Following the examination of papyrus sources, Riddle looks at Greek and Roman medicine records from Hippocrates to Galen. In Hippocratic treatises there are two references to oral contraceptives, one of which is the ingestion of copper ore, and there are a number of references to abortifacients, most of which are vaginal suppositories. In the works of Galen, the foremost physician in classical antiquity, there are three references to oral contraceptives, one is unidentified and the other two are barrenwort and juniper. Galen, like Hippocrates, makes many references to vaginal suppositories.
Riddle then examines the works and prescriptions for contraceptives found in the writings of late Roman Empire and early Middle Ages physicians. Riddle looks at the works of Oribasius, Marcellus Empiricus, Quitus Serenus, Theodorous Priscianus, Aetius of Amida, Cleopatra the Gynecologist, and Paul of Aegina. In the following chapter, Riddle summarizes church fathers and monks who spoke against the use of contraceptives and against abortion. The presence of these condemnations is evidence of contraceptive and abortion use.
The later part of the book discusses developments from the Renaissance and beyond. During these periods more extensive tests and studies were done on contraceptives and abortions. The new findings either verified or disregarded the knowledge from the past.
Riddle’s study was very thourough, extensive, and complete. He was able to fulfill his objective of making sense of historical records related to birth control. The entire book and information in it were laid out in the most comprehendible way. Riddle followed a very structured path of examination through the book. He was able to give the reader a good sense of the overall view on contraception and abortion, as well as down to the very specific details of the times. This book was an excellent study of contraception and abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance.