In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Birth of Mankind: Otherwise Named, The Woman's Book
  • Frank Swannack
Hobby, Elaine, ed., The Birth of Mankind: Otherwise Named, The Woman's Book (Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity), Aldershot, Ashgate, 2009; hardback; pp. xxxix, 310; 7 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. £60.00; ISBN 9780754638186.

First published in 1545 with the last edition appearing in 1654, a modern version of The Birth of Mankind by the physician Thomas Raynalde is long overdue. Elaine Hobby has spent nine years correcting this glaring omission to present a new version of the authoritative 1560 edition.

In an informative introduction, she identifies the general sources which The Birth of Mankind closely follows. These include Avicenna, Rhazes, Hippocrates and Albert the Great's (Albertus Magnus') encyclopaedic mid-thirteenth century On Animals. She also examines Richard Jonas' 1540 version of The Birth of Mankind, a translation of Eucharius Rösslin's Rose garden (1513) that Raynalde revised by correcting terminology and updating medical knowledge to present a more sophisticated text.

By way of preparing the modern reader for Raynalde's medical concepts, Hobby also uses her introduction to outline the basic Early Modern understanding of the human body. She begins with the humoral theory in which a subject's health is determined by the equal balance of yellow bile, phlegm, blood and black bile, which are associated with heat, wetness, dryness and coldness respectively. Hobby then emphasizes how 'a man would usually be hotter than a woman' (p. xxi), a superior state to the woman's cold dampness that also negatively describes her as a leaky vessel. What is especially interesting is that Hobby argues that a basic grasp of Early Modern medical and philosophical thought is necessary to understand how Raynalde challenges these concepts. In particular, as Hobby observes, Raynalde refutes women's inferiority to explain that menstruation, usually thought of as a damaging excess of blood, is necessary to provide nourishment for the anticipated foetus.

Hobby further whets the reader's appetite for the 1545 Renaissance [End Page 223] text by revealing that Raynalde added a new Book One to The Birth of Mankind. The new Book includes exciting ideas about the human anatomy first published in Latin, only two years previously by Andreas Vesalius, which attacked 'long-standing Galenic assertions' (p. xxv). Vesalius' radical ideas are derived from his own anatomical dissections of the human body that oppose the 'Galenic practice of refusing to dissect human beings' (p. xxv). Interestingly, Hobby observes that the 'Vesalian drawings of the female sexual anatomy' helped sell Raynalde's text (p. xxvii). Hobby also acknowledges that Book One's translated descriptions of the female sexual parts are a radical departure from 'the masculinist assumptions' of the Latin original (p. xxx). Less controversially, the second book moves on to a description of natural and unnatural births, good diets that help labour and also includes gruesome advice on how to remove a fully developed dead baby from the womb (p. 107). Book Three advises how to care for the newborn child, gives information on breastfeeding and provides remedies for childhood illnesses. Finally, Book Four examines the problems affecting conception, and what medicines may help it.

The Birth of Mankind is aided by fascinating diagrams of the birthing stool and 'The Birth figures' in addition to Book One's illustrations of the female sexual anatomy. It is also made more accessible by Hobby's myriad footnotes. The footnotes, though, can sometimes be annoyingly repetitive with the same word like the 'matrix' being persistently defined. However, this repetition may reveal the relentless energy Hobby has poured into the book. These efforts are evident in the appendices that include a wealth of extra material. This material includes extracts from Jonas' 1540 version of The Birth of Mankind, Raynalde's 1545 analysis of the male anatomy and the fascinating changes between the 1540 and 1560 editions of the text. Finally, a medical glossary and bibliography provide essential information for the student and researcher wishing to explore Early Modern medicine, gynaecology and midwifery in greater detail.

The exhaustive volume of material Hobby has added to the book makes her edition of Raynalde's The Birth of Mankind...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 223-225
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.