The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine

The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine

The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine

The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine


The Trotula was the most influential compendium of women's medicine in medieval Europe. Scholarly debate has long focused on the traditional attribution of the work to the mysterious Trotula, said to have been the first female professor of medicine in eleventh- or twelfth-century Salerno, just south of Naples, then the leading center of medical learning in Europe. Yet as Monica H. Green reveals in her introduction to the first English translation ever based upon a medieval form of the text, the Trotula is not a single treatise but an ensemble of three independent works, each by a different author. To varying degrees, these three works reflect the synthesis of indigenous practices of southern Italians with the new theories, practices, and medicinal substances coming out of the Arabic world.

Green here presents a complete English translation of the so-called standardized Trotula ensemble, a composite form of the texts that was produced in the midthirteenth century and circulated widely in learned circles. The work is now accessible to a broad audience of readers interested in medieval history, women's studies, and premodern systems of medical thought and practice.


In histories of women as in histories of medicine, readers often find a passing reference to a mysterious person called Trotula of Salerno. “Trotula,” for whom no substantive historical evidence has ever been brought forth, is said by some to have lived in the eleventh or twelfth century and is alleged to have written the most important book on women’s medicine in medieval Europe, On the Diseases of Women (De passionibus mulierum). She is also alleged to have been the first female professor of medicine, teaching in the southern Italian town of Salerno, which was at that time the most important center of medical learning in Europe. Other sources, however, assert that “Trotula” did not exist and that the work attributed to her was written by a man.

Any figure who could generate such diametrically opposed opinions about her work and her very existence must surely be a mystery. Yet the mystery of “Trotula” is inevitably bound up with the text “she” is alleged to have written. The Trotula (for the word was originally a title, not an author’s name) was indeed the most popular assembly of materials on women’s medicine from the late twelfth through the fifteenth centuries. Written in Latin and so able to circulate throughout western Europe where Latin served as the lingua franca of the educated elites, the Trotula had also by the fifteenth century been translated into most of the western European vernacular languages, in which form it reached an even wider audience.

Surprisingly, for all its historical importance, no modern printed edition of the Latin Trotula was available for the use of students and scholars until the Latin-English edition and translation I published in 2001. Prior to that, the Latin Trotula had been edited for publication only once, in the sixteenth century, under the title The Unique Book of Trotula on the Treatment of the Diseases of Women Before, During, and After Birth, and the only previous modern translations were based on this same Renaissance edition. While these modern translations have had some utility in keeping alive the “Trotula question,” they have in another sense perpetuated the confusion, since they have passed on to new generations of readers the historical distortions of the Renaissance edition, a work which is in fundamental respects a humanist fabrication.

The Renaissance editor, undoubtedly with the best of intentions, added . . .

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