University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine > One-seed, two-seed, three-seed? Reassessing ancient theories of generation

One-seed, two-seed, three-seed? Reassessing ancient theories of generation

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Medical and philosophical theories of generation from the classical world are often classified according to whether the female as well as the male produces ‘seed’, the substance which does the most important work in procreation. Aristotle is usually identified as the most influential proponent of the ‘one-seed model’, while Galen champions the ‘two-seed’ cause, and the debate between them continues, and continues to matter, for centuries. At stake here is not just theoretical efficiency – how well the full complexities of parental resemblance are accounted for by the contending notions, for example – but also, it has been suggested, politics and patriarchy. Two seeds are thus better, more egalitarian, than one, because this model values the female role in generation more positively. The lecture will argue that not only this characterisation, but the division itself, is misleading. Another way must be found to understand the key concepts in these foundational debates.

This talk is part of the Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine series.

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