Sunday, 11 January 2009

It is Greek to me

Today class, I am going to share with you the benefits of a Classical Education.

The word hysterical comes from the ancient Greek word hysterikos. Derived from the word Hystera meaning uterus or womb. It is from this that we also get the term Hysterectomy, Hyteroscopy and, of course, hystery commonly now spelt: history - which translates as the story of mankind that are of women's womb's born*.

The term is believed to have been coined by the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates whose name gives us both the Hippocratic Oath taken by Doctors - who promises to help those in a state of need to the best of their ability. Many readers who have had to grapple with the health system in whatever country they inhabit will have witnessed the takers of this oath only administering to those with deep pockets and may well have their own theories as to how the word hypocrite came about.

The Ancients believed that we women were governed by the workings of our uterus, and our moods were affected by the health of this organ. The idea was women could be driven to an hysterical state by having a disfunctional uterus, by which I mean a state of hysteria rather than an excessively developed sense of humour.

Regular sex and regular periods were seen as a sure-fire ways to ensure balanced mental health for women. In this respect their advice differs little to that given by women whose mental health is teetering on the edge of sanity by virtue of their inability to conceive.

The Greeks had a number of controversial ways of bringing on a period. To the left you can see a Athenian style red-figure vase painting illustrating one woman attempting to bring on a period, or as it is colloquially known 'bleeding from the hairy axe wound'. Please note this is a highly specialist procedure and should not be attempted by amateurs.

Nowadays thanks to the marvels of modern science we use more targeted procedures. For example, prescribing a drug called provera. The idea being that once the course of drugs has finished a period will shortly ensure. However, speaking from personal experience this method is not necessarily effective, I am currently on day 11 of the wait for my period to start.

In the past I use to believe that the idea of a woman's mood being controlled by her uterus was both ignorant and sexist. However, recently I have had to concede that there may indeed be some truth in the hypothesis (another term derived from the same stem word originally meaning 'an idea that is born from the womb'*). It is indeed true that over the past two years some of my lowest moments have indeed come about as a result of my womb not behaving itself. And even today I have noticed my behaviour verging on the hysterical as I nip to the loo every 3 minutes just to check that my period still hasn't arrived.

Turns out the Greeks might have been on to something.

* Don't believe everything you read on the internet kids, only half of these are true.


  1. Interesting partially true history lesson. I remember in nursing school going to the state mental hospital and they had a list of things that they could commit patients for. On the list were pregnancy and menstruation.

  2. I know exactly how "hysterical" running to the loo every 5 minutes to check for blood can be. In my case I was pg at the time and was checking to see if the bleeding had stopped (it didn't and I m/c).
    Either way, I think its the waiting for something to happen that can make you "hysterical".

    Hope your wait will be over soon.

  3. I'm pmsl at the Athenian illustration. Thanks for sharing the benefits of your education with us.

  4. Explains all those films where childless women go mental anyway.

    Hollywood reflecting the classics.

  5. Batty, I can't believe you could be admitted for pregnancy!

    Oh Amanda, I think my hysteria was probably at a way lower pitch than yours (for good reason)

    Jane, I was looking for another, more subtle, pot when I came across that one and couldn't resist.

    Hey Xbox, I'm afraid you'll have to sign up for another module to get the impact of Greek myth and history on contemporary cinema.

  6. wow...that is pretty interesting! so should we start spelling it hystory?

  7. It is interesting!Especially because I personally believe we've all been close to hysterikos :)try exploring the word Revelation and lecture it to your womb.Maybe it will finally behave and put an end to your loo nipping ;) Love you blog.


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