Elisa Groff

Discipline: Classics and Ancient History

Project Summary

Working title: “Female Sexual and Reproductive Health in Sixth-century Christianity”.

My research aims to use the WHO working definitions of Sexual and Reproductive Health to explore features of women's sexuality and reproduction in late Antiquity. It engages in a nuanced dialogue of medical, hagiographical and legal texts.

This project arises out of my academic background in Classics and Anatomy, as well as my WHO training in sexual and reproductive health. As an ancient historian and a human osteologist, my aim is to put the issue of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) into an historical perspective. The research applies a comparative approach by looking at late antique attitudes to SRH and prostitution in relation to classical Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. It aims in particular to explore the conceptualization of the female sexual and reproductive body in sixth-century Christianity. Finally, it investigates the medical as well as religious responses to the physiology of the female reproductive system in relation to prostitution and female sexual identity.

Fertility, sterility, breastfeeding and sexual rights are all key issues found in our ancient sources that resonate with modern public debates of all sorts: they affect today different parts of the world and different gender categories. This piece of research aims to lend new perspectives to the history of ancient SRH. The results may shed also light on the evolution of SRH in later times. It will develop a new understanding of the health of ancient women’s sexuality which is often caught up in the tensions between reproduction and sexual pleasure.My research aims to unfold new paths for cutting-edge research and teaching, and it will open more discussion to explore these themes also with non-academic groups.

Supervisory Team

Prof. Rebecca Langlands and Dr. David Leith.