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10 July 2024

New Voices Summer 2024: Food, Plants, Remedies and Healing Practices: Women’s Ideas in the History of Medicine

Talk | 4:30 PM - 6:30 PM | Jil Muller

Dr. Amalia Cerrito (University of Trento): Female seeds, powers, and bodies: Albert the Great and the vegetal sexuality

The 13th-century Dominican master Albert the Great extensively discusses vegetal sexuality. While animals reproduce through the mating of female and male individuals, plants lack a sexual distinction, reproducing through seeds that contain all necessary conditions for plant generation. Furthermore, the primary paternal and maternal functions, such as fertilization, generative material provision, and nourishment during development, do not involve individuals of the same plant species. External causal agencies perform these functions, like the Sun and the soil (traditionally regarded as the “father and mother of plants”). Despite the evident differences in animal and plant generation, Albert uses concepts such as “male and female”, “motherhood and fatherhood”, to explain vegetal sexuality. He is convinced that “male and female” and “motherhood and fatherhood” manifest in nature to varying degrees, ranging from the most perfect nature, i.e., human beings, to the less perfect, i.e., plants. Applying these categories to plants, he develops an explanatory model that aims to identify causal roles and powers of male and female, fatherhood and motherhood, in proportion to plant generation, using a comparative approach modeled on animal generation. In Albert’s view, plants lack sexually differentiated bodies not due to a factual absence of “male and female” attributes, powers, and causation outright, but rather as a consequence of their ontological status not due to a factual absence of “male and female” attributes, powers, and causation outright, but rather as a consequence of their ontological status. Plants express masculinitas and femininitas proportionally to their nature. The examination of plant generation provides an opportunity to elucidate these concepts, defining the essential aspects and causal roles of male and female functions and features. In this lecture, I will focus on how Albert employs concepts such as the female “body”, “seed”, and “power”, in his investigation on vegetal sexuality. By developing the analogy between the uterus/terra/mater (uterus/soil/mother), he adapts the Galenic humoral-complexion theory to the soil and identifies maternal and feminine properties and powers even in the simplest living body —namely, that of plants.


About the Speaker:

Amalia Cerrito is an Associate Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Trento where she works on a project titled Between Science and Myth: Albert the Great, his Sources and his Followers” (PRIN 2022: “Itineraries of Philosophy and Science from Baghdad to Florence: Albert the Great, his Sources and his Legacies”). She received her PhD in Philosophy in 2020 jointly by the University of Pisa and the University of Florence. In 2022 her work on Albert the Great and the ‘virtus formativa’ was awarded the Santorio Award for Excellence in Research.

10 July 2024

4:30 PM - 6:30 PM



Jil Muller


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