University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Generation to Reproduction Seminars > Gynaecological fragments in a pragmatic archbishop's handbook: the Old English 'Formation of the Foetus' in context

Gynaecological fragments in a pragmatic archbishop's handbook: the Old English 'Formation of the Foetus' in context

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The Old English Formation of the Foetus is a short Old English text from the eleventh century which describes on a month-by-month basis the development of the human embryo in utero and is found in a single manuscript: London, British Library, Cotton Tiberius A.iii. Since its first publication in 1866 it has been the subject of periodic bursts of interest from Anglo-Saxon scholars, but two questions remain unanswered in print to this day: What is the textual source for this fragment, and how does it relate to the texts recorded with it in the manuscript.

This paper attempts to answer these questions in the light of new research and recently published scholarship. A recent article by Tracey-Anne Cooper concludes that the manuscript in question was ‘an archbishop’s commonplace book or pragmatic handbook,’ while the details of the text closely resemble those found in the Gynaecia of Vindicianus. It is only by bringing these two approaches together that we may begin to ask a third question: why does an eleventh century archbishop want to know about the human embryo?

This talk is part of the Generation to Reproduction Seminars series.

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