restricted access 7 Global and Local Bodies of Knowledge
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272 Chapter 7 Global and Local Bodies of Knowledge Rhodian women’s ethnomedicine and the biomedicine that replaced it in the postwar decades are both best understood as local articulations of global medical traditions. Many of the ethnogynecological and ethno-obstetric principles and practices that I describe in the first chapters of this book will be recognizable to anyone familiar with ethnographic descriptions of fertility control and enhancement and pregnancy and birth in Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, or with historical reconstructions of midwifery traditions and women’s medicine that endured in Europe through the early modern period and, in some places, into the twentieth century. That these similarities have gone largely unnoticed to date is due at least in part to the fact that Greek ethnomedicine has not been studied as a comprehensive body of knowledge but rather as individual beliefs and practices or as essentially isomorphic with religious and ritual healing. In those chapters I hope to have shown that, when systematically reconstructed and carefully examined alongside the body of learned ancient medicine whose principles and practices informed so many health care systems around the globe prior to medicalization, the resonances are as clear as they are compelling. As I also have argued, however, these resonances should not be read as evidence of an essentially timeless Greek countryside from which the shards of ancient medical traditions can be excavated from the “folk medicine” of contemporary villagers. Instead, my overview of the enduring influence of the medical theories and therapeutic modalities advanced by Galen, Soranus, and a host of others who followed in their footsteps over the longue durée of the Ancient, Byzantine, and Ottoman years suggests a fluid and complex, if still not well-understood, interplay of oral and literate routes of transmission over time. One such thread of transmission, I have proposed, can be found in the lowly genre of vernacular texts that appear to have played a significant role in preserving and broadcasting this body of medical knowledge in the Greek- Global and Local Bodies of Knowledge 273 speaking world. Some of these texts, like the Geoponicon, were published in multiple editions and circulated widely over a period of several centuries; others , like the handwritten school notebook composed by the practical healer Nikolaos Theodorakis of the Cretan village of Meronas, were intended for the private use of individual healers and their heirs. Official medicine during the Ottoman centuries also was heavily influenced by Galen and other Greek theorists. Combined with subsequent advances made by renowned physicians of the Islamicate world, this Ottoman version of Greco-Islamic medicine enjoyed privileged status and remained the official medicine of the empire until well into the nineteenth century. Much remains to be learned about the dynamic relationships that surely existed among ethnic Greek populations, their popular medical practitioners, and both official and popular Ottoman medicine before independence. No doubt future historical research on the vernacular iatrosophia genre will uncover creative innovations and local variations on the classical principles. Still, one of the most intriguing findings that emerges from the reconstruction of women’s medicine on Rhodes is its remarkable continuity and consistency with the knowledge and practices espoused by Galen, Soranus, and those who were influenced by them and who popularized their work over the course of nearly two millennia and across large regions of the globe. Beyond its ethnographic interest, Rhodian ethnomedicine also has implications for contemporary debates over the nature of globalization. The corpus of knowledge and practices described in the first chapters of the book supports a view of globalization as a historically deep process in which local bodies become intimately and actively implicated. In rural Rhodes, women’s understandings of their bodily functioning and the therapeutic modalities at their disposal to manage their procreative concerns drew their persuasive force from a blend of secular and mechanistic humoral discourse on the one hand, and spiritually charged symbols and practices whose meanings were deeply rooted in the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition on the other. In many instances, the same object or substance (e.g., blood) or practice (e.g., salting the infant, secluding the lekhona) condensed diverse meanings derived from the two distinct traditions with no apparent conceptual dissonance. This blending was literally embodied in the person of the mammi, the village midwife, who was simultaneously a specialist in the knowledge and techniques needed to manage birth and the postpartum and in the informal rituals that initiated the gradual incorporation of the...


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Subject Headings

  • Human reproduction -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Childbirth -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Birth control -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women -- Health and hygiene -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Ethnology -- Greece -- Rhodes (Island) -- History -- 20th century.
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