Trotula of Salerno, or Trotula’s of Salerno?
A lot of stories are available on the female professor Trotula of Salerno. She was – according to the legend – an important female physician from 12th century Salerno. In the 11th and 12th century – and maybe long before that – Salerno in Italy was an important center of medieval medicine in Europe. Salerno is one of the first places in Europe who had an official medical school. It’s an important fact that both men and women were trained as physicians. Not only were they educated as an physician, also as an instructor in that school.
Trotula di Ruggiero as she was called is considered one of the first official gynecologists because she advised and educated male physicians about the female body. A famous book she wrote on this subject is the Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum meaning ‘The Diseases of Women’. Moreover, she wrote more works and they are later combined in the Trotula. During time, her existence became a bit of a discussion. Some say all her works were written by a man, and others say that her works were written by a lot of women called ‘Trota’. So, there is still much discussion about this woman. After 1500 women were certainly not allowed anymore at medical schools.
Monica H. Green, an authority on medieval women’s health wrote a lot about Trotula of Salerno. In an important article she refuted some myths surrounding the figure of Trotula. Frist, she stated that there could have been more than one Trotula, as there were many women in 12th-century with the name Trota, Trocta or Trotula. One of these known Trotula’s was a healer. Second, Trotula was not the name of this woman, but the name of a group of texts. Third, there are some indications that it is written by male authors, and that the Trota dictated the work. Fourth, we don’t have any details about her personal life. Fifth, it is not sure if she is the same person as the 12th-century healer ‘Trota’. Probably not, as there were many known medical practitioners with the name ‘Trota’. And finally sixth, were does the legend from this ‘female professor’ came from? It looks like it just pops up in history. It’s not possible to find the origins of this story.
So, this story is very complex. There were probably a lot of manuscripts and a lot of editors during history. That’s why it’s so difficult to distinguish different hands. Unfortunately for feminist gender historians, Trotula was not that much a emancipated professor. But a comforting thought it that there were actually a lot of female physicians active in 12th-century Salerno. And this Trotula may represent all these women as long as they don’t have a face at all.