Comparative Guts

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Illustrations of the uterus from Muscio’s epitome of Soranus’ Gynecology

Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale MS 3714, fol. 28r; c. 900 CE
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

These illustrations of various positions of the fetus in the womb accompany Muscio’s Late Antique Latin summary of Soranus’ 2nd century Greek work on gynecology. The 9th/10th century manuscript pictured here contains the earliest surviving images to accompany this text. Though anatomical illustration is known to have been used in classical antiquity, none survives. It is therefore difficult to know when precisely these images originated, but they are generally considered to be descendants of 6th—or even 2nd—century originals. The depiction of the womb shows a hybridity of theoretical and observational approaches to anatomy. The uterus takes the form of a cupping vessel or pot—an established analogical way of understanding its form and function—but also includes a pair of “horns,” offering an artistic (mis-) interpretation of the text’s dissection-based awareness of the anatomy of the organ, including the sinuses (“horns”/cornua) that (pronouncedly, in some animals) lead to the ovaries.