The Center for Interpretive and Qualitative Research
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Date: Thursday, September 17th, 2015
Location: Berger Gallery (207 College Hall), Duquesne University
Title: Breast Milk Ideologies and Icons in Ancient Rome and the Later Middle Ages
Presenter: Dr. Sarah Alison Miller, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Classics, Duquesne University
This paper analyzes representations of breast milk and its exchange in two loosely circumscribed historical contexts: the Roman Empire of the second century CE and thirteenth-century medieval Europe. It explores the semiotics of this effluvium, often categorized as natural and nourishing, but which also acted as a material cipher expressing the assumptions, prescriptions, desires, and fears animating multiple discourses. Breast milk was interpreted as both wholesome and dangerous, a sign of both maternity and virginity, a medium expressing both charity and the most malicious threat to humanity. This paper addresses these tensions by investigating how breast milk was physiologically theorized in the gynecological writings of Galen of Pergamum, Soranus of Ephesus, and the late-medieval Women's Secrets; how it functions as a medium of holiness in the hagiographies of Perpetua, the vitae of Christina Mirabilis, and The Golden Legend; and how it became the central focus of the iconography of perhaps the two most notorious breast feeders in history, Caritas Romana and Maria Lactans. Through comparative analysis, this paper aims to interrogate how significant shifts in the meanings of breast milk and its exchange illustrate complex and often contradictory views about women, the female body, female virtue, vulnerability, and power.
Dr. Sarah Alison Miller joined the Classics department at Duquesne University in 2008. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her primary research interests include the history of the body, literary representations of sexual violence, psychoanalysis, and monsters. Her book, Medieval Monstrosity and the Female Body (Routledge 2010), argues that female anatomy and physiological processes were marked "monstrous" in medieval medical, erotic, and religious literature. This monstrosity was especially associated with the porosity of female body boundaries and the fluids that pass through them: menstrual fluid, female "seed" and breast milk. She is currently working on her second book, The History and Culture of Breast Milk: From Greco-Roman Myth to Medieval Mysticism (Routledge), which focuses more narrowly on this specific body fluid to explore how it contributes to a more complex construction of the maternal body. Among the subjects she teaches at Duquesne are Latin, Classical Mythology, Greco-Roman poetry and theater, and a range of courses on sex and gender in ancient and medieval texts. In her spare time she likes to cook, do crafts with her two children, and collect bones and teeth.
All interested faculty, graduate students, and other parties are invited. Refreshments will be served.
For inquiries concerning CIQR, please contact the Center Coordinator, Fred Evans, Dept. of Philosophy, at email@example.com, 412-396-6507, or visit the CIQR website at www.duq.edu/ciqr.
*The Center has been officially approved by the Dean of the College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, The Graduate Council of the College, and the Council of Deans for the University. It is based in the College but open to members of all the schools of the University. It includes interpretive and qualitative research in both the humanities and the social and behavioral sciences (including the practice of the latter in Nursing, Education, Occupational Therapy and other professional schools).