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In Greek:

Hystera = womb or uterus

Hysterikos = a suffering in the womb

Image
The School of Athens (detail) (1509). Public Domain Image.

Plato and his followers described the uterus as an animal endowed with spontaneous sensation and motion, lodged in a woman, and ardently desiring to bear children. If it remained sterile long after puberty, it became indignant, dissatisfied, and ill-tempered and caused a general disturbance of the body until it became pregnant, when it became normal again.

This is in keeping with the age-old proclivity to attribute various abnormal manifestations to specific organs of the body. Emotional instability, thought to be more characteristic of women than men, was atttributed to the uterus." [1]

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How has this link between the term hysteria and the uterus shaped our understanding of emotional disorders in women ?

 

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1. William S. Haubrich. Medical Meanings - a glossary of word origins. American College of Physicians Philadelphia Pennsylvania 1997: p 107

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