02 - The drawings of the Gynaecia of Mustio - where text and materialities meet

The Gynaecia of Mustio are often considered within the panorama of medical Latin texts that come from a Greek model - in this case, the Γυναικεῖα of Soranus of Ephesus. This, on a certain extent, is absolutely true: our text is a treatise about gynaecology, supposedly written in the 6th century AD in an African area; its author, a Mustio or Muscio unknown otherwise, declares that he has translated a gynaecia following Soranum and the content of the work confirms this information. However, when we go a bit deeper inside the text, we see that it is not enough to define the Gynaecia as a translation of the Γυναικεῖα: the aim to write a book easily accessible and comprehensible for contemporary midwifes, as Mustio explains to us in his very introduction, is sincere and alive, and realised mainly through two important features: the language (muliebria uerba) and, the simplest and clearest one, explicative drawings. These are a picture of the anatomy of the uterus, where the author describes the organ, and some pictures of the different positions of the foetus inside the uterus, to explain the midwife how to deliver it correctly, in the chapter called de difficili et laborioso partu.

These drawings are one of the most characteristic elements of the Gynaecia, so much so that some of the minor witnesses of its manuscript tradition are sections containing only the above mentioned chapter, as part of medicine miscellanies. In these cases, the drawings can be considered a sort of separated book, a little album of pictures that exemplifies the double nature of an explicative drawing, connected and yet independent from its text and context. In this paper, I would like to look at these drawings with the new perspective of approaching to a very unusual and different kind of object, as something in relationship with the text transmitted but not really part of it, and as an instrument used for pedagogical purposes, that can speak to us about midwifes and gynaecologists' education. I will also argue that the presence of drawings in the Gynaecia of Mustio, far from being representative of the great quantity of pictures that would have been present in the Γυναικεῖα of Soranus - as Ann E. Hanson and Monica H. Green suggested - are really, as said before, a tool chosen by the author to make his text really available and useful for contemporary midwifes, and that separates it from its model with a new originality and intentionality.


Micaela Brembilla, Uppsala University