According to the Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, menstruation was the salvation of most women. He saw women as different from men by nature. Their monthly bleeding was a way of getting rid of excess moisture.
In the Corpus Hippocraticum, a collection of writings all attributed to the physician, but not all written by him, it states that women are different from men. Their flesh is softer and more sponge-like. This leads to females absorbing more moisture and becoming overfilled with blood. Men didn’t have this problem, and even if they had any excessive moisture, they could always sweat it out by hard labour. For women, the way of getting rid of this excess blood was menstruating. When a woman was pregnant, it went to the foetus and when she was lactating, it was converted to milk.
Menstruation was therefore considered by Hippocrates as a healthy time: without getting rid of the excess blood, women would probably get ill. The womb was seen as place of origin of female diseases. Young girls just before their menarche were most at risk: if the mouth of the womb wasn’t yet opened through sexual intercourse, the blood couldn’t flow out and would thus lead to ‘insanity and suicidal thoughts’. Nowadays, this is called puberty.
The Corpus Hippocraticum contains more interesting thoughts about menstruation: women with heavy and long periods are generally sickly and find it difficult to carry children, whereas women with light and short periods aren’t as often ill, but also don’t become pregnant that easy. In healthy women, the blood flows like that of a sacrificed animal.