Sex, Horses, and Reproductive Lore [12:58-59] (Latin)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
The Galen Connection
Beautiful Thoughts, Beautiful Offspring
Closing

{Jacob, showing the sheep the peeled rods. Image found in the National Library of the Netherlands’ Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.}

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Abstract

Isidore gets into the details of managing the conception and birthing of animal offspring for desired results.

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Translation

[58] “Certainly human diligence has paired many diverse animals together in sex, so too are discovered other types mingling in forged embraces; just as Jacob was able to get animals of unnatural color and likeness. For the rod was absorbed by those fertile sheep, which they would see by the water as the shadow of a ram looming over them.

[59] “Further, this itsef is done with the fertile mares of a herd, so that the birth of horses is affected by what is thrown before them while they conceive, which are able to conceive and create their likeness. For on their collars are painted in a beautiful way and placed in their presence, those that they respect, which leads to quick births of animals like those that they see.”
(St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:58-59)

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Recordings

Latin:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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The Galen Connection

The ideas that Isidore writes about here might just be pulled from the works of the famed second century physician and philosopher, Galen. His theory of conception was that it was necessary for both a man and a woman who wanted to have a child to orgasm at the same time, thereby having their contributions to the child line up.

A failure to impregnate a woman or to become impregnated was a failure to climax at the same time in other words, and not necessarily chalked up to either partner’s having something wrong with their equipment.

Further, though, Galen also wrote about how it was important for the parents-to-be to imagine beautiful things during intercourse.

This was especially true for women, since there was a vague sense that they carried the human essence that would become a child and that men merely helped to shape and quicken this essence. So, if a man was thinking of a lovely thing, and the woman he was with was thinking of some sort of “dog-headed ape” (to borrow Isidore’s “cynocephalus” (12:60)), it was believed that her conception would result in the child being somehow deficient.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on simultaneous orgasm didn’t last too far into the medieval period since the re-discovery of Aristotle led to the adoption of his ideas on the matter. According to old Ari, only the man had to orgasm during sex; it was merely the woman’s job to catch his ejaculation properly.

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Beautiful Thoughts, Beautiful Offspring

As far as the animals that Isidore writes about here are concerned, the same principles are in play. Plus, he wisely refers to the greatest auctoritee of them all in the medieval world – Scripture.

Jacob used his own sort of animal engineering, and that lead to his prosperity, so why can’t contemporary people do the same, the reference implies.

In fact, paragraph 59, though only about mares, talks about presenting those that are fertile with beautiful things so matter of factly that the lore presented is definitely taken as pure fact.

Perhaps there is some truth to it, since a birth might not go so smoothly if a mare gets spooked in the middle of it, or is under extra duress because she’s being stared down by some cynocephalus or other.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday for Wiglaf’s washing, and the beginning of Beowulf’s rather telling speech.

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