BOTH physicians and philosophers of distinction have investigated the duration of the period of gestation in man. The general opinion, now accepted as correct, is that after the womb of a woman has conceived the seed, the child is born rarely in the seventh month, never in the eighth, often in the ninth, more often in the tenth in number; and that the end of the tenth month, not its beginning, is [p. 289] the extreme limit of human gestation. And this we find the ancient poet Plautus saying in his comedy the Cistellaria, in these words: 1
And then the girl whom he did violateThat same thing is stated by Menander also, a still older poet and exceedingly well informed as to current opinion; I quote his words on that subject from the play called Plocium or The Necklace: 2
Brought forth a daughter when ten months had sped.
The woman is ten months with child . . .But although our countryman Caecilius wrote a play with the same name and of the same plot, and borrowed extensively from Menander, yet in naming the months of delivery he did not omit the eighth, which Menander had passed by. These are the lines from Caecilius: 3
And may a child in the tenth month be born?—Marcus Varro leads us to believe that Caecilius did not make this statement thoughtlessly or differ without reason from Menander and from the opinions of many men. For in the fourteenth book of his Divine Antiquities he has left the statement on record that parturition sometimes takes place in the eighth month. 4 In this book he also says that sometimes a child may be born even in the eleventh month, and he cites Aristotle 5 as authority for his statement in regard both to the eighth and the eleventh month. Now, the reason for this disagreement as [p. 291] to the eighth month may be found in Hippocrates' work entitled περὶ τροφῆς, or On Nurture, from which these words are taken 6 “Eighth-month's children exist and do not exist.” This statement, so obscure, abrupt, and apparently contradictory, is thus explained by the physician Sabinus, who wrote a very helpful commentary on Hippocrates: “They exist, since they appear to live after the miscarriage; but they do not exist, since they die afterwards; they exist and do not exist therefore, since they live for the moment in appearance, but not in reality.” But Varro says 7 that the early Romans did not regard such births as unnatural rarities, but they did believe that a woman was delivered according to nature in the ninth or tenth month, and in no others, and that for this reason they gave to the three Fates names derived from bringing forth, and from the ninth and tenth months. “For Parca,” says he, “is derived from partuis with the change of one letter, and likewise Nona and Decima from the period of timely delivery.” 8 But Caesellius Vindex in his Ancient Readings says: ' The names of the Fates are three: Nona, Decuma, Morta"; and he quotes this verse from the Odyssey of Livius, the earliest of our poets, 9
By Pollux! in the ninth, and seventh, and eighth.
When will the day be present that Morta has predicted?But Caesellius, though a man not without learning, took Morta as a name, when he ought to have taken it as equivalent to Mocra. 10 [p. 293] Furthermore, besides what I have read in books about human gestation, 11 also heard of the following case, which occurred in Rome: A woman of good and honourable character, of undoubted chastity, gave birth to a child in the eleventh month after her husband's death, and because of the reckoning of the time the accusation was made that she had conceived after the death of her husband, since the decemvirs had written that a child is born in ten months and not in the eleventh month. The deified Hadrian, however, having heard the case, decided that birth might also occur in the eleventh month, and I myself have read the actual decree with regard to the matter. In that decree Hadrian declares that he makes his decision after looking up the views of the ancient philosophers and physicians. This very day I chanced to read these words in a satire of Marcus Varro's entitled The Will: 12 “If one or more sons shall be born to me in ten months, let them be disinherited, if they are asses in music; 13 but if one be born to me in the eleventh month, according to Aristotle, 14 let Attius have the same rights under my will as Tettius.” Just as it used commonly to be said of things that did not differ from each other, “let Attius be as Tettius,” so Varro means by this old proverb that children born in ten months and in eleven are to have the same and equal rights. 15 But if it is a fact that gestation cannot be prolonged beyond the tenth month, it is pertinent to ask why Homer wrote that Neptune said to a girl whom he had just violated: 16 [p. 295]
Rejoice, O woman, in this act of love;When I had brought this matter to the attention of several scholars, some of them argued that in Homer's time, as in that of Romulus, the year consisted, not of twelve months, but of ten; others, that it was in accord with Neptune and his majesty that a child by him should develop through a longer period than usual; and others gave other nonsensical reasons. But Favorinus tells me that περιπλομένου ἐνιαυτοῦ does not mean “when the year is ended” (confectus), but “when it is nearing its end” (ad fectus.) In this instance Favorinus did not use the word adfectus in its popular signification (but yet correctly); for as it was used by Marcus Cicero and the most polished of the early writers, it was properly applied to things which had advanced, or been carried, not to the very end, but nearly to the end. Cicero gives the word that meaning in the speech On the Consular Provinces. 17 Moreover, Hippocrates, in that book of which I wrote above, when he mentioned the number of days within which the embryo conceived in the womb is given form, and had limited the time of gestation itself to the ninth or tenth month, but had said that this nevertheless was not always of the same duration, but that delivery occurred sometimes more quickly, sometimes later, finally used these words: “In these cases there are longer and shorter periods, both wholly and in part; but the longer are not much longer or the shorter much shorter.” 18 By this he means that whereas a birth [p. 297] sometimes takes place more quickly, yet it occurs not much more quickly, and when later, not much later. I recall that this question was carefully and thoroughly investigated at Rome, an inquiry demanded by a suit at law of no small moment at the time, whether, namely, a child that had been born alive in the eighth month but had died immediately, satisfied the conditions of the ius trium liberorrum, 19 since it seemed to some that the untimely period of the eighth month made it an abortion and not a birth. But since I have told what I have learned about a birth after a year in Homer and about the eleventh month, I think I ought not to omit what I read in the seventh book of the Natural Histoy of Plinius Secundus. But because that story might seem to be beyond belief, I have quoted Pliny's own words: 20 “Masurius makes the statement 21 that the praetor Lucius Papirius, when an heir in the second degree 22 brought suit for the possession of an inheritance, decided against him, although the mother 23 said that she had been pregnant for thirteen months; and the reason for his decision was that it seemed to him that no definite period of gestation had been fixed by law.” In the same book of Plinius Secundus are these words: 24 “Yawning during childbirth is fatal, just as to sneeze after coition produces abortion.”
A year gone by, fair offspring shall be thine,
For not unfruitful is a god's embrace.