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‘Of the chaunge from one sex to another’: eye-witness accounts of Pliny the Elder (23–79) and Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) – psychiatry in literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 March 2021

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Pliny, unprecedented encyclopaedist, writes:

‘It is no lie nor fable, that females may turn to be males. For we have found it recorded in the yeerely Chronicles called Annales, that in the yeere when Pub. Licinius Crassus, and C. Cassius Longinus were Consuls of Rome, there was in Cassinum a maid child, under the very hand & tuition of her parents, without suspition of being a changeling, became a boy: and by an ordinance of the Southsaiers called Aruspices, was confined to a certaine desert Island, and thither conveighed. Licinius Mutianus reporteth, That himselfe saw at Argos one named Arescon, who beforetime had to name Arescusa, and a married wife: but afterwards in processe of time, came to have a beard, and the generall parts testifying a man, and therupon wedded a wife. After the same sort he saw (as he saith) at Smyrna, a boy changed into a girle. I my selfe am an eie-witnesse, That in Affricke one L. Coßieius, a citizen of Tisdrita, turned from a woman to bee a man, upon the very mariage day: and lived at the time that I wrote this booke’ (Naturalis Historia, trans. P. Holland, 1601).

Paré, renowned surgeon, cites Pliny, and adds:

‘Also being in the retinue of the King at Vitry-le-François in Champagne, I saw a certain person (a shepherd) Germain Garnier – some called him Germain Marie because when he had been a girl he had been called Marie – a young man of average size, stocky, and well put together, wearing a red, rather thick beard, who, until he was 15 years of age had been held to be a girl, given the fact that no mark of masculinity was visible in him, and furthermore that along with the girls he even dressed as a woman. Now having attained the aforestated age, as he was in the fields and was rather robustly chasing his swine, which were going into a wheat field, [and] finding a ditch, he wanted to cross over it, and having leaped, at that very moment the genitalia and the male rod came to be developed in him, having ruptured the ligaments by which previously they had been held enclosed and locked in (which did not happen to him without pain), and, weeping, he returned from the spot to his mother's house, saying that his guts had fallen out of his belly; and his mother was very astonished at this spectacle. And having brought together Physicians and Surgeons, in order to get an opinion on this, they found that she was a man, and no longer a girl; and presently, after having reported to the Bishop – who was the now defunct Cardinal of Lenoncort – and by his authority, an assembly having been called, the shepherd received a man's name: and instead of Marie (for so he was previously named), he was called Germain, and men's clothing was given to him; and I believe that he and his mother are still living’ (Des monstres et prodiges, trans. A. Pallister, 1983).

Luigi de Crecchio is credited with the identification in 1865 of congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

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‘Of the chaunge from one sex to another’: eye-witness accounts of Pliny the Elder (23–79) and Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) – psychiatry in literature
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