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On Monsters That Have Come Forth from Women’s Wombs
The following fragment, from Landmarks in Gynecology, part of the series Fragments from the Annals of Medicine (published by the Royal Academy of Science), was written in the early Seventeenth Century by an anonymous English physician with the nom de plume of Sophipygus. Unfortunately, the bulk of the unprinted manuscript was destroyed by fire, worms, and the dribblings of a very acidic wine fermented by an obscure group of monks in Blackmoor, which seems to have had an especially corrosive effect on the lamb-hide parchment and gallnut ink that Sophipygus used. Except in the case of italicized titles, the spelling has been modernized for the present publication.



How the Count of Dingleberry expelled a centipede from his rod

How the vagina resembles a mole’s eye

How virgins produce monsters in their wombs

Some causes of monstrous births

How a tripemonger’s wife expelled a harpy

How a dead whore gave birth to a monster

How a noble virgin birthed an animal

How a merkin-maker’s wife cast from her belly several monsters of diverse species

How Man is like the dung beetle



It is true that men, upon occasion, generate wild beasts within their bodies. Count Percival of Dingleberry assures me that he ejected through his rod, after a battle with the gripes, a live animal, not unlike a centipede in form but scab-red in color and smelling of fresh butter, which animal, after a great deal of lashing, leapt from the chamber pot and slithered under the bed, whereupon the Count’s cat, a fat old one-eyed mouser with shredded ears, devoured the worm and fell instantly dead. 
    As Monsieur Joubert writes (in his book On the Innate Sinfullness of Man, His Corruption in the Wombe from Whenceforthe he Comes between Urinne and Feces, a Squalling Beaste Bearing in his Tissewes the Mortall Tainte of Eve), although men have been known to discharge animal creatures from their rods, ears, mouths, noses, eyes, and bungholes, such productions are no match for the infinite corruption and monstrous fertility of the womb, that sink of the body, that sewer of the microcosm wherein all filth clots, that animal who becomes spiteful if thwarted and often rises up to smother the heart, that lecherous beast who rushes down to suck up the seed of poor bewitched Man. Spurred on by the excitement of coitus, Man thrashes in a pit, loses himself in a filthy and treacherous labyrinth full of who-knows-what manner of slime-mired Minotaurs, pokes a cesspool with his noble rod, spits from his scepter a spirituous seed into the gross and clammy seed of Woman to ignite life, casts his sacred fire into cold humors oozed forth from her inferior and shriveled stones, for she hath not the natural heat sufficient to inspirit life. Nay, her vagina is like unto the eye of the mole that hath all the proper parts but no heat sufficient for the faculty of sight, so that her rod remains inverted, hidden, shrouded in darkness, and doth not thrust itself forth into the Light of God as doth Man’s Aspiring Member which erects itself toward Heaven. Because of the corruption of certain excrements that molder in the wombs of women, as oft occurs in the bowels and other chambers of the body, women have been known to expel from their wombs (sometimes with normal fetuses, other times as sole issue), insects, worms, oysters, frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, newts, horn-owls, monsters, harpies, & C., which false births our learned men call moles or wild beasts. Even virgins, who turn green pining for a husband, and who retain seed in their bodies until it becomes venomous and emits a stinksome vapor, can produce such vermin of the womb without the inspiritous substance of the Masculine seed.1 As the learned Parey scornfully writes, the ignorant among us claim that such births derive from the spawn of water serpents who happen to spurt their seed into the pool some unfortunate draws for a bath, and that in the heat of such a bath the woman’s open pores suck in this reptile seed. The ignorant know not, however, that this is impossible, unaware that a woman cannot conceive save when, in the excitement of coitus, her lickerish womb opens up and sucks in the seed it so desireth.2 
    But I, like Theseus, have momentarily put down my thread, have risked losing my way in that treacherous and beslimed labyrinth into which men befuddle themselves in pleasures so bewitching that they would sell their souls to the Devil rather than withdraw their pizzles from that frog-pit which breeds monsters no less hideous than Minotaurs. 
    Due to the putrefaction of female seed, the corruptive forces of unnatural foods, the monstrous desires of wombs so greedy they must cast forth creatures with or without the sublime seed of Man, all manner of beasts may spring from the rank and darkling slimes of the womb. 
    Monsieur Bourgeois, a learned French physician and distant cousin of mine, delivered the monstrous birth of a tripe-monger’s wife well past age of child-bearing: a bladder-dugged hag with oysters for eyes and a black tongue, a scab-pated witch in a greasy kerchief whose ankles hung over her shoes. The local midwife, diagnosing an apostema, called in my cousin the surgeon. And the hag, insisting that she felt a child quick within her, begged Bourgeois to feel how the wee jester cut a caper in her belly. Not a drop of sap left in her, but this rancid old tripe-wife, this scrap of maggoty bacon, this roasted pig’s ear must spread her legs for the gentleman my cousin and scream like a sow in farrow. She showed him her privates, he gasped from the stench, and out popped a fat hairless cat, horned like the devil and mustachioed like a rake. Round and round the bed the creature scampered, whistling and crying, pattering and skittering, until it climbed up the bedpost and thereupon began licking the slime from its skin. My cousin caught it in a hempen sack, and as it died shortly thereafter, he anatomized the beast and found a litter of bee-sized kittens in its belly. 
    Theophilus Clunes, a doctor from Venice, in his learned work Treatise on Lycanthropes, Hermaphrodytes, Amazones, and other Marvells that Goddesse Nature Putteth Forth from Her Infinite Storehouse, writes of a whore hanged for infanticide who, taken to Barber-Surgeon’s Hall for dissection, revived on the anatomy table and promptly birthed a monster before a crowd of spectators who pelted her with rotten onions. The monster, a pig-snouted creature with glittering eyes and cricket’s legs, hopped among the crowd and hid itself in a gentlewoman’s petticoat, wherein it squeaked loudly and caused the woman to faint. The doctors undressed the woman and found the beast dead, withered as though starved, in the vicinity of the gentlewoman’s buttocks where it may have been searching for a hidden teat.3 
    Sir Philip Popinjay, Knight of the Stool and Personal Surgeon to His Majesty the King, describes, in his great work The Anatomy of Codpeeces, a noble young virgin of twelve summers, with lily paps and a breath of myrrh, with rubies sewn into her golden hair, with lips like cherries and eyes like stars, whom he treated for greensickness, and who, after lactating blood from her dainty coral nipples, fell into a swoon and, in a bed with a coverlet of scarlet velvet, cast from her belly, along with a great gush of foul-stinking humors, a live flying fish, not unlike the marvel described by Rondolet in his History of Fish: an exceedingly warty creature with a green snout and three sets of wings. Sir Popinjay kept the fish alive in a bucket of brine and presented it to His Majesty the King on his forty-fifth birthday. 
    The learned Scatophagus, in his Garden of Adonis, relates a story wondrous to contemplate, about a merkin-maker’s wife who, having finally conceived in her thirtieth year, became so great-bellied that she could hardly get about and sat by the kitchen fire eating everything in sight. Having an especial fondness for the inner parts of beasts—that is to say, the organs and bowels—she gobbled tripes, sausages, numble-pies, calf-brains, quail-hearts, pig-stones, sheep-pizzles, swan-gizzards, & C. , until, in her seventh month she became so enormous that she feared bursting and promptly sent for the midwife. After much groaning and wailing, crying and kicking, the woman brought forth at dawn, a lump of living flesh with a single human foot growing out of its base, upon which foot the lump hopped across the bed, jumped to the floor, and scurried under the wash-stand. After that, the unfortunate woman expelled a mass of serpents (one of which bit the midwife on her wrist), and then a small devil with horns and a forked tail who ran around the chamber laughing and farting. After the devil had been strangled with a leather shoe-lace, the exhausted woman finally gave birth to a much-withered human male. But so bedeviled was this child by his womb-mates, the monsters and snakes, that he died before nightfall. 
    Learned reader, you marvel that the human body could produce such monstrosities, but when you consider that the microcosm struggles in its daily existence to imitate the macrocosm with its infinite fertility (as the French physician says in Des Monstres et prodiges), then it is no great wonder that the body hatches such beasts, especially when the world is naught but a carcass, a foul and pestilential congregation of vapors, a ball of excrement upon which Man piddles his days away like the dung beetle harvesting filth.4

1. That is why the learned Barrough recommends, in The Method of Physick, that to relieve a virgin suffering from womb fury, a midwife should wet her fingers in fragrant oils “and then put them into the mouth of the matrix, rubbing it, long and easily, that through that provoking, the gross and clammy humor may be avoided out.”

2. Unless it opens during the monthlies to issue blood, which blood, being venomous, will corrupt the male seed and produce a sickly or misshapen child. And as the milk is nothing but rarefied womb-blood drawn through tubes to the teat, a woman should not feed her child her dug’s first issue, but apply a pretty whelp or newborn pup to her breast until the poison is drawn away. As the learned Parey says, in The Workes of that Famous Chirurgion Ambroise Parey, “what a great boon of nature to turn the breast-milk white, for who could stomach so grievous and terrible a spectacle as a child’s mouth imbrued and besmeared with blood?”

3. As in the case of Elizabeth Sawyer, witches are known to suckle the devil and also their animal familiars with bigges, those secret teats they keep hid about their privates and bungholes.

4. Especially the female body, for as Holy Scripture tells us, the wife is the body and the husband the head, hence women are more prone to bemire themselves in corruptions of the flesh.

Julia Elliott is the author of the story collection The Wilds, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and the novel The New and Improved Romie Futch (both Tin House). She has won a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and her fiction has twice appeared in Best American Short Stories.