Anatomy, and Physiology
3.0.1 What follows is extracted from an interdisciplinary study of the notion of woman in scholarly texts of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The various disciplines—theology, law, medicine, practical philosophy—all possess authoritative texts which attract commentary; the fact that nearly all of these are written in Latin and widely diffused through the mechanism of the book fairs makes them a coherent and accessible body of doctrine not only to scholars working within the individual disciplines but also those beyond them.
3.0.2 Three broad areas of enquiry are pursued in the context of this corpus of texts: the notion of woman itself; the idea of sex difference; the relationship between sex difference and other differences. From the earliest times, and in the most far-flung cultures, the notion of female has in some sense been opposed to that of male, and aligned with other opposites. The ways in which these opposites have been used in argumentation and related to each other are the subject of an illuminating investigation by G. E. R. Lloyd entitled Polarity and analogy: two types of argumentation in early Greek thought (Cambridge, 1971). The earliest stage in the use of polarity, in Lloyd's analysis, is represented by the related opposites attributed by Aristotle to the Pythagoreans in Metaphysics A.3[986a 21ff]:
This is a slightly adapted version of chapter 3 in Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of
Woman: A Study in the Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medical Science in European Intellectual
Life (Cambridge University Press, 1980). © Ian Maclean. Reprinted with permission.