Annual Dorothy Buchan Lecture to focus on the subject Women's Bodies in Ancient Medicine

Posted by ap507 at Oct 19, 2015 11:05 AM |
Event taking place on 10 November 2015

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 19 October 2015

  • Cambridge Classics lecturer Dr Rebecca Flemming to be guest speaker at this year’s annual University of Leicester event
  • The 15th public lecture will focus on 'Women's Bodies in Ancient Medicine' on 10 November, 2015
  • Lecture named after former head of Leicester High School for Girls Dorothy Buchan

An annual public lecture dedicated to ancient history and delivered by a notable guest speaker will explore some of the earliest recorded medical observations of the female body.

As the founders of modern medicine, the Greeks paved the way for a new scientific approach to the identification and treatment of disease, sickness, ailments and infections.

Their radical approach to drugs, diagnosis and surgical practice was a giant leap from past spiritual beliefs, such as illnesses being inflicted as a divine punishment.

Now, the fascinating subject of how ancient medical practitioners first began to understand female anatomy is being explored at the University of Leicester's 15th annual Dorothy Buchan Lecture.

Cambridge academic Dr Rebecca Flemming, Senior Lecturer in Classics (Ancient History) at Fellow of Jesus College, will visit the University on Tuesday, 10 November, to deliver her talk ‘Women's Bodies in Ancient Medicine’.

Dr Flemming said: “The medical remains of the ancient world are rich and varied: extensive medical writings survive from classical Greece right through to the Later Roman Empire, accompanied by a diverse set of archaeological materials relating to medical practitioners and their activities.

“This lecture plots a particular path through this rich and influential territory, exploring the understanding of female bodies that emerge from these writings, from the discussions and debates of Hippocratic physicians in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, through the anatomical endeavours of early Hellenistic Alexandria, into the even large scale world of the Roman Empire, to the massive medical system building of Galen of Pergamum in the second century AD.

“The key question that will be addressed is whether ancient medical authors considered female and male bodies to be essentially the same, or different, and in what did they think that difference might consist? What kind of diseases might women therefore be subject to? And how did these ideas shape therapies and treatments?”

The annual event is held in honour of Dorothy Buchan, the former head of Leicester High School for Girls and student of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Each year, the talks focus on the ancient world – with a strong focus on the female influence on classical civilisations.

Past lectures have highlighted the roles of Roman women, Greek queens and Helen of Troy, and have been delivered by experts such as Bethany Hughes and Professor Maria Wyke.

This year's free lecture takes place at 5.30pm in the Ken Edwards Lecture Theatre 3, with a drinks reception, held in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History Building foyer, afterwards.

Organiser Dr Jan Haywood, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, said the public lecture is open to everyone and a specialist knowledge of the subject is not needed.

He said: “The lecture is designed to have a broad appeal and open up our discipline to a diverse audience of students and members of the public.

“Over the years we have had a number of charismatic speakers and these figures have helped greatly in conveying their research to a non-specialist audience.”

Upon her death, in 2000, Dorothy Buchan's family, friends and colleagues established a fund in the School, which both supports this annual lecture, but also the Ancient History dissertation prize and Travel Bursary in the School.

“Dorothy was interested in various aspects of ancient history, and she had a special interest in the place of women in the ancient world – her dissertation was on Hellenistic queens.

“Many of the lectures over the series have acknowledged this interest in the role of women in antiquity. This year's speaker, Dr Flemming, is thus a fine addition to this rich series of gynocentric lectures.”

Anyone wishing to attend the event can contact the School Office, on: 0116 252 2720 or


Notes to editors:


Rebecca Flemming is Senior Lecturer in Ancient History in the Faculty of Classics, and Fellow of Jesus College, University of Cambridge.

She is a social and cultural historian of the ancient world, with wider historiographic and comparative interests too.

Best known for her ground-breaking work on the intersections of medicine and gender in the Roman Empire — explored most extensively in her book ‘Medicine and the Making of Roman Women: Gender, Nature, and Authority from Celsus to Galen’ (2000) — she has published widely on medicine and gender in the ancient world, both jointly and separately.

She is co-editor of the forthcoming volume ‘Reproduction: A History from Antiquity to the Present Day’.

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