chapter  5
20 Pages

Pollution and purification in women’s reproduction

WithAda Nifosi

This chapter discusses what ‘pollution’ was in Greco-Roman Egypt, and how it could be related to childbirth and other phases of women’s reproduction. Pollution or impurity and ‘being pure’ are polar opposites in most ancient and modern cultures. The act of becoming pure, the purification, is a fundamental ritual act that in many ancient and modern societies is aimed at reconciling a momentary fracture between human and divine. Many documents of different types incidentally describe attitudes towards menstruation, sex and childbirth, giving an idea about how people, and especially women, dealt with such common pollution. Soon after menstruation, women’s bodies were considered completely purified, and for this reason, they were considered at the peak of their monthly fertility. Egyptian men rarely showed an open attitude of disgust towards menstruating women. The condition of prolonged bleeding put women in postpartum in a similar situation to those during menstruation.