History of Scientific Women

Main achievements: Held a chair in the school of medicine at the university of Salerno.

Trota of Salerno (also spelled Trocta) was a medical practitioner and medical writer in the southern Italian coastal town of Salerno who lived sometime in the early or middle decades of the 12th century. She promoted cleanliness, a balanced diet, exercise, and avoidance of stress - a very modern combination. Her book on the diseases of women was very advanced for the time [Reference: "The Hidden Giant" by Sethanne Howard]. Her fame spread as far away as France and England in the 12th and 13th centuries. Thereafter, aside from a distorted reflection of her work that lived on in the Trotula treatises, her work was forgotten until it was rediscovered in the late 20th century.

In the later 12th century, part of the work associated with the historical Trota of Salerno, the De curis mulierum ("On Treatments for Women"), was subsumed into the Trotula ensemble, a compendium of three different works on women's medicine by three different authors. The title "Trotula" ("the little (work of) Trota") was soon misunderstood as an author's name, and “Trotula” came to be seen as the singular author of all three texts in the Trotula ensemble, which became the most widely disseminated and translated works on women’s medicine in later medieval Europe.

The authentic works of Trota, in contrast, survive in only a handful of copies. Whatever survived of her fame beyond the 12th century seems to have been fused with the textual persona "Trotula." In modern scholarship, therefore, it is important to separate the historical woman Trota from the fate of the Trotula texts, because their historical importance and impact were quite distinct. Debates about whether "Trotula" really existed began in the 16th century, generated in part out of the inherent inconsistencies in the assembled work that circulated under "her" name. Those debates persisted into the later 20th century, when the discovery of Trota's Practica secundum Trotam ("Practical Medicine According to Trota") and philological analysis of other works associated with her allowed the real historic woman Trota to be seen independently from the textual creation "Trotula."

No independent biographical information on Trota of Salerno exists beyond information that can be gleaned from writings associated with her. That information allows us to place her sometime in the first half of the twelfth century. Trota is associated as author or source with several different works. The work that Trota is most immediately associated with as author is the Practica secundum Trotam ("Practical Medicine According to Trota"), which covers a variety of different medical topics, from infertility and menstrual disorders to snakebite and cosmetics. The Practica was first discovered in 1985 by California Institute of Technology historian John F. Benton. Benton found the text in a Madrid manuscript likely written at the very beginning of the 13th century. Trota is also the authoritative figure behind one of three texts in the so-called Trotula ensemble, a compendium of works on women’s medicine brought together later in the twelfth century. This is the text known as De curis mulierum ("On Treatments for Women"). Trota cannot properly be called the "author" of this text, or at least not in the form in which it has survived, because she is cited within the text in the third person. Trota appears in an anecdote about a young woman suffering from ventositas matricis ("wind in the uterus"). As the text explains, sometimes women "take in wind" into their uterus, "with the result that to certain people they look as if they were ruptured or suffering from intestinal pain." Trota was called in to treat a woman suffering from the condition. The text stressed that "Trota was called in as if she were a master." The Latin word for "master" here is in the feminine form, magistra, the most compelling sign that Trota had a social stature comparable to that of male magistri. This treatment of "wind" in the uterus has no other parallel with known works coming out of Salerno. But much of the rest of the text of De curis mulierum has strong echoes of practices of Trota's known from the Practica secundum Trotam. The third-person reference to Trota's cure raises the question of who the "we" is that is seen throughout most of the text of De curis mulierum. Green posits that the text seems to capture the collective practices of one group of female practitioners, setting down their cures for another group of readers (or auditors) who will have the same unfettered access to the bodies of their female patients: "it appears to have been written down to provide a more permanent and concrete mechanism for the transmission of knowledge from woman to woman than the oral forms that had traditionally served the needs of Salernitan women. . . . [T]he text posits a community of female readers who would be able to rely on this text for instruction . . ." Women's literacy is not well documented in southern Italy in this period, which raises the question of why the De curis mulierum was written down in the first place. Green finds a clue to this question in the three words of English derivation found in the earliest copies of the text. The De curis mulierum may have been written down, she suggests, not for the benefit of local women in Salerno, but for an audience in England eager in general to learn about medical practices in far-off Salerno. Both England and southern Italy were under Norman rule at this point, and transference of southern Italian medical writings to Normandy and especially England are well-documented in this period. In fact, the manuscript where we find the earliest copy of the original version of the De curis mulierum—Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 79, from the early 13th century—seems to have been written both in Italy and in England.

Source: Wikipedia