Bodily fluids/fluid bodies: call for papers

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By | Early Medicine

Paper proposals are invited for a conference on ‘Bodily fluids/fluid bodies in Greek and Roman Antiquity’ that will take place at St Michael’s College, Cardiff, 11–13 July 2016. The conference is organised by Dr Victoria Leonard (Cardiff) and Dr Laurence Totelin (Cardiff). The keynote speakers are Dr Rebecca Flemming (Cambridge) and Professor Helen King (Open University).

Classical Studies are currently witnessing a sensory/sensual turn: the five senses have become central to our understanding of the Greek and Roman world. This welcome development has led scholars to pay attention to repulsion as much as to pleasant sensations, and has added a new material dimension to literary studies.

Bloodletting images of foot and body.

Bloodletting images: points on the foot from which to bleed, and Vein Man, depicting points on the body from which to bleed. MS. 93 (handbook of practical medicine in German, mid-15th century), folios 49v–50r. Wellcome Images L0023523.

This conference builds upon these sensory approaches to examine bodily fluids: blood and menstrual blood, sweat, tears, phlegm, bile, urine, sperm and milk. How were bodily fluids, and those who exuded them, received in ancient society? How were internal bodily fluids perceived, and how did this perception alter if such fluids were externalised? Do these ancient conceptions complement or challenge our modern sensibilities about bodily fluids? How were religious practices determined by attitudes towards bodily fluids, and how did religious authorities attempt to regulate or restrict the appearance of bodily fluids?

In addition to furthering our historical knowledge of these individual bodily fluids, this conference seeks to refine the definition of the ancient body. Does the body end with the skin, or is it a more fluid entity that can leak, transpire and trickle? How prevalent are metaphors of fluidity in descriptions of the ancient body? How are bodily fluids an indication of gender and sex? We are also interested in descriptions of conception, in which male and female bodily fluids are said to coagulate to form an embryo.

We welcome papers on any bodily fluid and/or on the fluidity of the ancient body, building upon material, literary or anthropological sources, from Homer to Late Antiquity and the early Byzantine period. We are open to various approaches, including medical history; gender, feminist and queer history; history of the body; and history of sexuality.

Please send your abstract (300 words maximum) for a twenty-minute paper by 15 October 2015 to Victoria Leonard ( or Laurence Totelin ( We are also happy to answer any queries you may have.

Author: Dr Laurence Totelin is a historian of Greek and Roman science and medicine, with particular interests in pharmacology and botany. She is based at Cardiff University, where she is Senior Lecturer in Ancient History. Her two main academic publications are Hippocratic recipes: oral and written transmission of pharmacological knowledge in fifth- and fourth-century Greece (Leiden: Brill, 2009) and, with Gavin Hardy, Ancient botany (London: Routledge, 2016). She also writes for a wider audience on The Recipes Project and on her own blog, Concocting History

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