Feet and Fertility in the Healing Temples: A Symbolic Communication System Between Gods and Men?

by Silvia Marinozzi

Our contribution, Feet and Fertility in the healing temples: a symbolic communication system between gods and men?, aims at proposing a new interpretation of a traditional topic in the archaeological and historical medical studies. There are plenty of anatomical ex-votos of uteruses and feet found in temple repositories in Greece and Southern Italy; anatomical ex-votos of male genitals are statistically less significant. However, even if fertility is generally attributed to the female role in the conception of a new life, Greek medical presocratic witnesses on the double seed theory and the literary sources on feet as a place of father-son similarity lead us to put forward a different interpretation from those connected with fractures and gout. As a matter of fact, according to the most common interpretations, ex-votos represent either the part of the body which the worshipper asked the God or Godness to be healed for, or the gift to the temple for having been healed. However, since ancient physiology doesn’t always overlap with our knowledge of the human body, we can collect a lot of textual evidences according to which feet are parts of the body the generative seed belong to. In fact, in the pangenetic theory on the origin of the human seed, sperm is supposed to be produced by all the parts of the body, and the parts where it is mainly concetrated are meant to be the places of similarity. To sum up, by a closer cross examination of the archaeological remains, the literary sources and the ancient medical treaties, we found out that there is a connection between the anatomical ex-votos of feet, and the quest for fertility. Moreover, from an anthropological viewpoint, the symbolic language of the ex-votos testifies the patient’s role in the long history of the relationship of care, slowly and labouriously headed to our patient-centred medicine.

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