Comparative Guts

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Terracotta anatomical votive

3rdC BC-1stC BC

© The Trustees of the British Museum, Museum Number 1839,0214.51

This image represents an inner part; some of the features, such as the ribs and wrinkles and the central globe, point to a womb as an ‘empty sack’, a container ready to receive the embryo; on the other hand, the piece is flat and the coils somehow more involute, offering an analogy to the intestines; or could indeed point at any other sack (as Helen King rightly comments). The potential for different interpretations allows us to make a key point: ‘pouchiness’ and coils appear to be a fundamental modular element in the conceptualisation of inner parts of the body, at least in the Greek-Italic contexts, in poetry as much as in learned medicine (the Greek koilia is used for the stomach, the womb, the intestines, the cavities of the torso as a whole, and has a general meaning ‘hollowness’, ‘concavity’, ‘sack’, ‘pouch’).