Known for: author(?) of Trotula, a medieval medical, gynecological, and obstetrical text
Occupation: physician, writer
Dates: ? – 1097?
Also known as: Trota of Salerno, Trotula of Salerno, Trotula of Ruggerio, Trotula Platearius, Trocta
About Trota or Trotula:
The Trotula was a name given to compilations of medieval medical texts, including (according to one modern translator, Monica Green, who attributes
just one to Trota) Practica secundum Trotam (Trota’s Practical Medicine), De egritudinum curatione (Treatment of Illnesses), and On Treatments for Women. One compilation was titled De passionibus mulierum (Diseases of Women), or Trotula Major. The author was given as Trota.
These first appeared in the twelfth century, probably in Salerno, Italy, and were considerably revised and eventually standardized over the next several centuries. They were originally written in Latin, and by the 16th century had been translated into just about every European language. These texts formed the foundation of much of the practice of gynecological and obstetric medicine in Europe in the medieval period.
These medical writings were, by some, identified as those of a man, probably because her frank addressing of issues of childbirth and the female body were not expected of women. But the author identifies herself as a woman in the text, explaining that women patients are more likely to be honest when attended
by a woman physician.
Thus, some accept that the author of these texts was an 11th-century woman, Trota, who served as an obstetrician, gynecologist, and physician in Salerno, where there was in that time a school of medicine of significant fame. The school was a key entrance point into European Christian culture of the ideas and practices found in Arabic medical texts. Johannes Platerarius of the school is identified by some historians as her husband, and Matthias and Johannes the Younger, also medical writers, are sometimes identified as her sons.
Others believe that there was no real Trota, and that her name is simply a device used by the real author or authors.
Many of the practices in the books are based on medical beliefs now known to be scientifically questionable or unfounded, such as “wind” in the uterus, or a “wandering womb.” The books contain many herbal and other remedies for various medical conditions. Some practices are surprisingly modern, such as the use of silk thread to repair tears that occur during delivery, or the instructions for how to handle abnormal birth presentations. She recommended the use of opium in childbirth, contrary to church teachings that women must suffer in childbirth.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales refer to this physician and writer as Dame Trot.
Judy Chicago’s feminist art project, The Dinner Party, included a place setting representing Trotula.
Places: Southern Italy