Between+XX+and+XY:+Intersexuality+and+the+myth+of+two+sexes

Of course the short answer is that no one knows and

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Unformatted text preview: vide the blood needed for the da Vinci circa 1493. Reproduced with man’s erection. Perhaps he put it permission from the Royal Collection, there to tie sex to love. Regardless, London, England no one today sees that tube. A Brief History of Sex 15 Like Galen before him, Leonardo saw things that we no longer see, things we now believe never existed. How could that have happened? How could an anatomist as skilled as Leonardo, a man so painstakingly accurate at other times, have made such gross errors? Of course, the short answer is that no one knows, and no one ever will. Whatever motivated Leonardo died with him. But it is interesting that, at the time, Catholic Church doctrine fit a lot better with Leonardo’s image of two tubes through the penis, which would keep pure sperm “unpolluted” by urine. In addition, over a thousand years before Leonardo, Hippocrates had proposed that the brain produced sperm and delivered it to the penis, even though Hippocrates never saw such a duct either. The Church also liked that idea, because it separated the holy act of reproduction from the base function of elimination. Old ideas die hard, and political ideas backed by the strong arm of governing religious institutions fitted with the talons of the Spanish Inquisition also acquire a certain attractiveness they might otherwise lack. One way or another, Leonardo clearly drew something that those who look today cannot see. Only a few years after Leonardo’s death, another young man drawn by the siren song of anatomy set upon the task of revolutionizing the science and once and for all laying to rest the ignorance of the ancients. That man was Andreas Vesalius, who, at the peak of his career as anatomist and physician at the University of Padua in Italy, embarked on an assault on the work of Galen. To Vesalius’s great good fortune, a local judge took an interest in the anatomist’s work and saw to it that the bodies of executed criminals found their way into Vesalius’s dissection theater. Vesalius hired an artist, probably Jan Stephan van Calcar, a student of Titian in Venice, to draw from the dissections. Because of this artistic input, the resulting drawings were superior—more accurate and intricate—to any that had come before. In 1555, Vesalius gathered van Calcar’s drawings into the classic work of anatomy De Humani Corporis Fabrica. The Fabrica represented the first major change since Galen. In fact, many of Vesalius’s findings directly contradicted those of Galen. So great 16 Between XX and XY were those contradictions that some of the most learned scholars of the time, who revered Galen, severely criticized Vesalius for the Fabrica. Vesalius replied that the ones who deserved the criticism were those who mindlessly followed the works of Galen and couldn’t see Galen’s errors for themselves. Despite the critics, the Fabrica quickly became regarded as the first truly accurate representation of human anatomy. Finally, people thought, the anatomists had it right. The ignorance of the past now lay buried beneath the rich soil of modern truth. But among all of Vesalius’s criticisms of Galen’s work lay a single nugget of agreement—the similarity of human genitalia. Vesalius and van Calcar laid out the vagina as a long tube that looks very much like the shaft of a penis. At the external end of the vulva the tissues are gathered into the shape of the glans of the penis and covered with pubic hair. At the opposite end, the uterus acquires the shape of a scrotum. The similarity of the sexes in these drawings was apparent to all, and when another anatomist, Juan Valverde de Amusco, published his Historia de la composición del cuerpo humano in 1556 in Venice, he followed Vesalius’s lead. In his drawings, women’s genitalia also looked remarkably like those of men.5 From Vesalius and his disciples this vision The female genitalia as seen spread. Nearly every drawing of women’s genby Vesalius, circa 1540. italia for the next three hundred years would The uterus is at the top, the look like those first created by Vesalius and vagina and vulva below. The Valverde de Amusco. For most of the first Illustrations from the Works two millennia of recorded history, men and of Andreas Vesalius, World women appeared more alike than they ever have since. Publishing Company. A Brief History of Sex 17 Believing Is Seeing Looking at some of the drawings of Leonardo, Vesalius, and Valverde de Amusco, my first temptation is to believe that the anatomists who created them simply lied about what they saw—just deleted, reshaped, and created things to suit their expectations and popular beliefs. But these were some of the best-trained and most critical observers alive. They sought the truth, especially Leonardo. I cannot easily believe that he would have intentionally lied about what he saw simply to pay homage to currently popular ideas among anatomists and the whims of the Catholic Church. Nor can I believe anything similar about Vesalius, who see...
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This document was uploaded on 02/04/2014.

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