Bonner, SMA – PDF, 94.
a chair and tended by a midwife and another helper (Pl. XXIII, Fig. 3).66 It was found in tomb 100 of the necropolis of Isola Sacra (Ostia). In this relief the chair is seen from the side, which makes it impossible to compare it in all details with Soranus' description. There is nothing visible that differs from it, and one detail, the provision of special grips on the arms of the chair, is in accord with his directions. Birthchairs which might almost have been made from the pattern recommended by Soranus are still used in Egypt. A good photograph of one is shown in Miss Blackman's work, The Fellahin of Upper Egypt.67
Besides several passages in medical works which mention the birthchair, there is an interesting one in a book of a different kind, the Life of Porphyrius, by Mark the Deacon.68 Referring to the recent confinement of the Empress Eudoxia (401 A.D.), the author says, ἡ δὲ δέσποινα, ᾗ μόνον ἔτεκεν καὶ ἀνέστη ἐκ τοῦ λοχηφόρου δίφρου, ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς . . . “on the very day of her delivery and her rising from the birthchair, she sent a message to us,” etc.
Some who examine these uterine amulets may have lingering doubts about the identity of the principal feature of the type, because of its striking resemblance to a pottery vessel. It must be remembered, however, that the layman's idea of an internal organ will always be rendered in a schematic form, and even the surgeon trained in anatomy will be obliged, in describing it to one who has not had the advantage of an autopsy, to use some approximate comparison. Some of our dictionaries describe the uterus as a pear-shaped organ; and Soranus compared its form to a physician's cupping vessel (σικύα) used in bloodletting, broad and round at the base, and contracting towards the mouth.69 The stylized uterus of these amulets departs no farther from nature than the conventional modern representation of a heart from the actual appearance of that organ.70
66 G. Calza, La necropoli del Porto di Roma nell'Isola Sacra, pp. 248–249 (fig. 148), 367. The relief was found in the tomb of a midwife who had been married to a surgeon.
67 P. 63, fig. 28.
68 Chap. 44, p. 37, 9–10, in the edition by Grégoire and Kugener, Paris, 1930.
69 1, 9 (ed. Ilberg). See also Celsus De medicina 2, 11 for the form of this instrument (cucurbitula). The best illustrations from archaeological sources are to be found in Gurlt, Gesch. d. Chirurgie; Nos. 45 and 47 on Plate I correspond almost exactly to the shape that prevails on the uterine amulets.
70 Since most uterine amulets are of Egyptian origin, attention may be called to the Egyptian sign resembling a cup or bowl (the lower half of an oval with a wavy line across the top), which was originally used for a well, but came to be employed (as a substitute for an older sign) for the female organ (Gardiner, Sign-list, N 41–42).