Genetics, Molar Pregnancies, and Medieval Ideas of Monstrous Births: The Lump of Flesh in The King of Tars

by Natalie Goodison

What’s fascinating about this paper is that it’s a collaboration between geneticists and medievalists—and this very rich perspective led me to rethink what the Middle Ages considered fact/fictitious. It begins with a fictional story, within which a woman gives birth to a lump of flesh. When I first read about this lump, I thought it too was fictional, but through working with geneticists I learned that giving birth to a lump of flesh (known to us as a hydatidiform mole, and in medical treatises as mola matrices) is a genetic possibility, abnormal but within the realm of reason. In researching this paper we discovered in the Middle Ages there was certainly an awareness that births of lumps of flesh were indeed possible, and not fictional, as I, and much of the literature around the story, had previously thought. We explore medieval views of conception of abnormal births, look at medieval awareness of mola matrices, and compare this to genetic theories. What’s really exciting is that by comparing medieval accounts for how these abnormal births might actually occur against modern genetic science, we found that the medieval theories surround Galen’s view of abnormal conception were actually astonishingly correct in regard to the formation of a lump of flesh.

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Read the full article on the Medical Humanities Journal website.

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