Salpe was a midwife from the Greek island of Lemnos. Her name and methods are known to us through the writing of historian Pliny.
As well as midwifery, Salpe offered a number of cures and remedies for other ailments including sunburn, stiffness and dog bites. Her main ingredients were saliva and urine which were believed to have natural healing powers.
Salpe was probably not a well-educated woman – she probably couldn’t read and had little contact with leading medical professionals of the time. Her brand of medicine was based on a mix of superstition, herbal cures, prayer and sympathetic magic.
As physicians were expensive, the common people of Lemnos relied upon women like Salpe to provide them with healthcare. Whoever she was, Salpe’s remedies must have been widely known for her to have caught the attention of Pliny.
Some of Salpe’s remedies (do not try these at home!):
- To cure the bite of a wild dog, wear the flux of the wool of a black ram contained in a silver bracelet.
- For a numb (stiff) limb, spit into the bosom of the patient, or touch the upper eyelids with salvia
- To strengthen the eyes, apply urine.
- To cure sunburn, mix urine and egg white (preferably ostrich) and apply to the skin every two hours.
- Feed a dog a live frog to stop it from barking.
Woman’s Power, Man’s Game: Essays on Classical Antiquity in Honor of Joy K. King edited by Joy K. King, Mary DeForest
The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the 20th Century – Marilyn Ogilvie, Joy Harvey
Women in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century – Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie
Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic
“Medicine aryballos Louvre CA1989-2183 n2” by English: Clinic Painter (name-piece) – Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011).
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