Tro(c)ta of Salerno

Today I’m tipping my hat to Trota (alternate spelling: Trocta) of Salerno. And boy, do I wish I had more to write about her.

Here’s what historians (notably Monica H. Green) have been able to piece together: she was a woman; she was a medica (she practiced medicine); she was an author; and she probably lived in the first half of the 12th Century.[1] No real biographical information survives about her that we know of, and there are correspondingly no modern biographies on her, so I can’t comment on her life.

What we know about, instead, is her work. Two medical manuscripts are associated with Trota as author: Practica secundum Trotam (Practical Medicine According to Trota) and De curis mulierum (On Treatments for Women). Her sole authorship of the latter is contested due to a third-person reference to Trota in the text, but this, of course, does not preclude her involvement in its creation.[2]

In these texts, Trota provided remedies for a range of medical issues affecting feminised bodies, as well as information on cosmetics. As Margaret Schaus points out in Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopadia, these two matters are by no means unrelated, nor are cosmetic matters frivolous.[3] Along with remedies for matters such as menstrual complications and uterine prolapses, Trota offered women tips for negotiating the socialisation of their bodies. Information on repressing one’s libido or forging the blood flow expected during first a woman’s first act of penetrative intercourse responded to the social conditions of the time, during which many women might take vows of chastity, while others concerned themselves with their marriageability.[4] In this vein, the cosmetic topics fall under the umbrella of maintaining women’s bodies, both physically and also in terms of social standards.[5]

Beyond just acknowledging that women as experts did in fact exist before “modern” times, the case of Trota and her medical books demonstrates how women’s expertise in enterprises often assumed to have been historically gendered male can be obscured by certain historical approaches to and understandings of texts, reading, and authorship. Trota’s books were not “found” until the 20th Century, but, of course, this has no affect on the reality of her historical practice. For me, this is worth keeping in mind, as it reminds me that textual absence (or loss, or concealment) does not equal historical absence.

~S

 

[1] Monica H. Green, “Reconstructing the Oeuvre of Trota of Salerno,” in La Scuola medica Salernitana: Gli autori e i testi, ed. Danielle Jacquart and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Edizione Nazionale ‘La Scuola medica Salernitana’, 1 (Florence: SISMEL/Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2007), 200-207.

[2] Ibid., 187-190; Edward F. Tuttle, “The “Trotula” and Old Same Trot: A Note on the Lady of Salerno,” Bulletin on the History of Medicine 50, no. 1 (Spring 1976): 61-72.

[3] Margaret Schaus, Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia (New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006), 341.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Bibliography

Green, Monica H. “Reconstructing the Oeuvre of Trota of Salerno,” in La Scuola medica Salernitana: Gli autori e i testi, ed. Danielle Jacquart and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Edizione Nazionale ‘La Scuola medica Salernitana’, 1. Florence: SISMEL/Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2007.

Schaus, Margaret. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.

Tuttle, Edward F. “The “Trotula” and Old Same Trot: A Note on the Lady of Salerno.” Bulletin on the History of Medicine 50, no. 1 (Spring 1976): 61-72.

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Tro(c)ta of Salerno