Saturday, April 29, 2017

Y for Yi Shuo: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Post Card art-W. Han Dynasty
Sometime during the Chinese Western Han Dynasty two thousand years ago, in the eastern region of China near the Yellow River, lived a famous woman doctor named Yi Shuo. From an early age, Yi had a keen interest in herbal medicine and was determined to learn more. She questioned the doctors passing through her town, slowly growing in her knowledge. By the time she was a teenager, she knew where to look for herbs in the mountains and how to pound them into a pulp for treatment of her villager's wounds and injuries.

One story tells of Yi's ability to treat dropsy (today known as edema). A patient arrived at her door seeking help with abdominal dropsy. Her protruding belly was larger than that of a pregnant woman, and yet she was wasted and thin elsewhere in her body and struggled to breathe. After a thorough examination, Yi pulled out her supply of silver needles and began pricking the woman’s belly and legs. Medicine powder was applied to the woman’s navel next and a band of silk soaked in hot water was wrapped around her belly. A final treatment of medicinal food was fed to the patient.

A few days passed. The patient’s dropsy had reduced noticeably and within ten days she was up and about and her old self again. Word spread of Yi’s ability, eventually reaching the Emperor Wu of Han himself. Impressed with Yi’s medical skills, he promptly gave her a position in the palace and made her the Imperial Doctor. From that time forward, Yi’s responsibility was to treat and oversee the health of the Empress dowager (or Empress Mother), who it is said, “deeply trusted” Yi.

In general, medicine during the Han Dynasty was based on the belief that forces of nature affecting the universe also affected the human body. A body out of balance (yin and yang) required medicine to counteract the balance. Organs of the body were associated with one of five phases (Earth, Wood, Fire, Metal and Water). 

To function properly, the phases needed to be in harmony. If illness showed up in a particular organ, it was a sign that qi (or vital energy) had been disturbed. In the case of Yi’s patient, her Earth phase would have been out of whack. Yi might have prescribed a diet, considered moxibustion (burning moxa on or near a person's skin as a counter irritant), suggested calisthenics, and/or administered acupuncture, which she did with the silver needles.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Celebrate the Small Things: An Important Email and End of April Challenge

It's been quite a month. I'm celebrating only two more days left to the A-Z April Challenge. I don't know what hit me. I do this every year, but 2017 will probably be my last time.

Mostly, it's been an interesting month learning about female scientists of antiquity. Boy, there were more women than I realized, so no regrets. And some of the other a-z posts were above board and truly amazing. I hope you were able to visit some.

Mid-April, I had oral surgery on bone in my upper palate. Yeah, I know. That sounds pretty yucky and it could have been more painful than it was. But prayer and two pain pills later I was on the road to recovery. All stitches have since dissolved.

But the best thing about April 2017 will forever be the email I received from a publisher offering to publish my novel!!!!  Assuming all goes as planned, you'll see me doing cartwheels all over the internet when The Shells of Mersing (working title) goes live sometime in July. 

I wanted my Celebrate friends to be
the first to "officially" know online.

"Come celebrate with us"
To join "Celebrate the Small Things:  visit Lexa Cain's blog
Co-hosts are: L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits Blog

X for Zhang Xiaoniangzi: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Song Dynasty. Artist - Qian Xuan
Zhang Xiaoniangzi is a famous female surgeon revered in
Chinese history. She lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Not much else is officially known about her other than her fame as a physician and surgeon and that her medical skill had not been passed down by any of her ancestors.

Legend tells a different story of
Zhang as a young girl who was visited one day by an aging doctor. He was thirsty and asked for a glass of water. Zhang gave him tea instead and a meal. The old doctor was so impressed with Zhang’s “intelligent, virtuous and hardworking nature” that he gave her a recipe for procedures (?) and ointment making, and a book on prescriptions for curing carbuncles and abscesses. Word spread to the people of Zhang's new ability to cure carbuncles and abscesses. As her medical knowledge grew she eventually became a skilled female surgeon. Marrying at some point, she shared her medical expertise with her husband, who then gained fame in his own right as a doctor and surgeon. 

Most of Zhang's work and life as a physician are lost to
historians, but we do know the era was a period of change in China. The population alone doubled between the 10th and 11th Centuries. Compared to the rest of the world, China was “one of the most prosperous and advanced economies in the medieval world.” There were some important firsts during the Song Dynasty, such as the Chinese government’s use of paper money, printing, and the compass. There were advances in science . . . in botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, mechanics, horology, astronomy, pharmaceutical medicine, archeology, mathematics, etc. For more on the Song Dynasty, check out the video below.

Song Dynasty. Tea making. Painting - artist unknown.
There were two books on pharmaceutical medicine available during the Song Dynasty that Zhang and her husband may have used. Both were edited in the 11th Century but were much old than the Song Dynasty. There are versions still read today!
  • Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses by Zhang Zhongjing (1st complied, 150-219 AD) – on diagnosing and treating infectious disease caused by the cold, based on a patient’s yin and yang symptoms.
  • Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Casket (1st written 150-219 AD) by Zhang Zhongjing – for internal diseases


Thursday, April 27, 2017

W for Witch-hunt Victim, Hypatia: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Actress, possibly Mary Anderson in play
"Hypatia" circa 1900
Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 355-415 AD) was the only daughter of astronomer and mathematician, Theon of Alexandria. Educated in Athens, Hypatia excelled in mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.

In Egypt, she went on to head the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught astronomy and philosophy based in the teachings of Plato and Aristotle.

She was quite popular as a spiritual leader and had a following in Alexandria that included Christian, pagan and foreign students alike. Her home soon became an important gathering place and learning center.

Her teachings were rather mystical and dwelt on the “mystery of being.” In letters, she wrote of “the eye within us” as a “divine guide.” In sync with her father’s understanding of the world, she viewed astronomy “as the highest science, opening up knowledge of the divine.”

Unfortunately, Hypatia did not fit into the societal mold as perfectly as one might think. When she was brutally murdered in 415 AD by a mob of Christian extremists, outrage and centuries of debate have continued in the wake of her death. Some have called it a witch hunt.

Apparently, Hypatia’s interest in divination and astrology, at times concentrating on “magic, astrolabes and instruments of music,” and her position as a pagan philosopher, scientist, and mathematician bothered Cyril, the new Bishop of Alexandria. The bishop before him had permitted violence against Jews, and pagans and their leaders, destroying their shrines, temples and images.

However, Hypatia had become a civic leader and was adored by both Christians and non-Christians. Cyril must have prickled inside watching her stroll through town with confidence in her philosopher’s cloak as she spoke openly to the crowds. Hypatia was a perpetual thorn in Cyril’s  flesh.

Astrolabe of Jean Fusoris; made in Paris, 1400.
(Putnam Gallery)
The astrolabe was used by navigators and
astronomers to measure altitude of celestial bodies 
and to calculate latitude.

Cyril's fight to remove Jews and nonconforming Christian groups in Alexandria had recently escalated into a blood thirsty feud, dividing the city. Those opposing Cyril sided with Orestes, the Roman Prefect of Alexandria.

Orestes (himself a Christian) also happened to be a close friend of Hypatia. Cyril saw an opportunity and began lashing out at Hypatia, openly accusing her of sorcery. A church chronicler (John of Nikiu) later restated this accusation as “she beguiled many people through satanic wiles.” She was “the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments.”

But it was Cyril’s first accusation that led to the crime. A mob of Christian extremists known as the parabalonoi kidnapped Hypatia, dragged her to a church, stripped her naked, and ripped open her flesh with pot-shards. After dismembering her body, they burned her remains. Another chronicler (Hyesychius) later wrote: “her body [was] shamefully treated and parts of it scatter all over the city.” 

"Death of the philosopher Hypatia, in Alexandria" from
Vies des savants illustres, depuis l'antiquité jusqu'au dix-neuvième siècle,
1866, by Louis Figuier.
The parabalonoi were never punished. The bishop spread a rumor announcing Hypatia had moved to Athens. Some historians claim her death was symbolic of the end of ancient Greek/Roman influence and the end of Alexandria’s intellectual life. But another source states it was Hypatia's femaleness that was under attack. It "made her a special target, vulnerable to the accusation of witchcraft.” Further, she had long fought against Jewish and other religious repression.