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Title: Woman
Original Title: Femme
Volume and Page: Vol. 6 (1756), pp. 468–471
Author: Paul-Joseph Barthez (biography)
Translator: Naomi J. Andrews [Santa Clara University,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Barthez, Paul-Joseph. "Woman." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Naomi J. Andrews. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2004. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Femme," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 6. Paris, 1756.
Citation (Chicago): Barthez, Paul-Joseph. "Woman." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Naomi J. Andrews. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2004. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Femme," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 6:468–471 (Paris, 1756).

Woman, foemina , γυνὴ, ischa in Hebrew; the female of man. See Man, Female, and Sex.

I will not discuss skeletal differences between man and woman: one can read on this subject M. Daubenton’s Description du cabinet du Roi ( Histoire naturelle , vol. 3, pp. 29 and 30); Monro, appendix to his Osteology ; and Ruysch, who made several specific comparisons of the ribs of the two sexes. [1] See Skeleton.

I am also not going to describe the reproductive organs; this subject belongs more properly in other articles. But it seems appropriate to mention here an ingenious way of understanding the difference between these organs in man and woman.

M. Daubenton ( Histoire naturelle , vol. 3, p. 200), after having noted that the greatest similarity between the two sexes pertains to the secretion and emission of semen, thought that all of the discernible difference in the size and the position of certain parts depends on the womb, which is larger in women than in men, and that this organ would render the reproductive organs in men identical to those of women, if they had them.

M. Daubenton rested this theory on the description of several underdeveloped fetuses, which Ruysch published, or which are in the Royal Collection. These fetuses, even if of the feminine sex, appear male at first glance, and Ruysch has made a general rule for female fetuses of around four months, in a passage that one can add to those that M. Daubenton has cited (thesis 4, no. 42): foetus humanus quatuor proeter propter mensium, quantvis primâ fronte visus masculini videatur sexus, tamen sequioris est, id quod in omnibus foetibus humanis, sexus foeminini ea oetate reperitur .

M. Daubenton agrees up to a point with Galen, who, in the second book of περὶ σπέρματος [ Peri spermatos or On the seed ] (chap. 5), proposes that there are no other differences between the reproductive organs of man and woman than those of position and growth. To test whether these parts, originating in the peritoneal sac, remain withdrawn there, or emerge according to the strength or weakness of the animal, he also recounted the dissection of adult females and of pre-term fetuses. We find the same theory in Galen’s treatise, De usu partium [ On the Usefulness/Utility of the Parts of the Body ] (book 14, chap. 6), and Avicenna adopted this theory wholesale in the third book of his canon, sect. 21, tractate 1, chap. 1. [2]

But Galen did not believe that men lack a womb; rather he believed that in men it is reversed and forms the scrotum and encases the testicles, which are exterior to the womb. He saw the penis as a prolapsed vagina, instead of finding its origin in the clitoris.

Piccolhomini [3] and Paré [4] also embraced Galen’s opinion; Dulaurent, [5] Kyper, [6] and several other anatomists, found in it only the air of false plausibility. This question appeared to be intimately connected to that of hermaphrodites, even though we have only mythic and poetic examples of men turning into women; instead one finds many women changed into men, whose metamorphoses are seriously attested to. This odd comment, with the proofs to which it is liable, can be found in Frommann, De fascinatione magicâ , p. 866. [7] See Hermaphrodite.

Hippocrates ( Aphorism 43, book 7), stated positively that a woman cannot become ambidextrous. [8] Galen confirms this and adds that this is because of her natural weakness; however one sees dames de charité [9] who draw blood very effectively with either hand. I know that this aphorism has been interpreted by Sextus Empiricus, [10] (p.m. 380) to mean that female fetuses are not conceived on the right side of the womb. J. Albert Fabricius [11] has also remarked that this interpretation was suggested by Galen in his commentary, but he should have added that Galen disagreed with it in the same place.

The Anatomists are not the only ones who have considered woman to be, in some manner, a failed man; platonic philosophers have a similar idea. Marsilio Ficino, in his commentary on the second book of Plotinus’ third ennead, which is the first περὶ προνόιας [ On providence ], (chap. 11) assures us that the reproductive force of each animal strives to produce a male, this being the most perfect of its type; but nature sometimes desires a female in order that propagation, which requires the intercourse of both sexes, perfect the universe. See vol. 2 of the works of Marsilio Ficino, p. 1693.

The varied prejudices on the relationship between the excellence of man and woman have been produced by the customs of ancient people, and by the political and religious systems which they have shaped in their turn. I exclude from this the Christian religion, which has established, as I will discuss below, a real superiority in men, while preserving nevertheless for the woman the right to equality.

We have so severely neglected the education of women among all of the refined peoples, that it is surprising that we can identify so many whose erudition and written works have made them renowned. M. Christian Wolff [12] has provided a catalog of celebrated women, followed by fragments of classic Greek prose texts. He has elsewhere published the fragmentary poems of Sappho, and the elegies that she received. The Romans, the Jews, and all of the literate peoples of Europe have had learned women.

A. Maria van Schurman [13] has posed the following problem: is the study of literature suitable to a Christian woman? She responds in the affirmative; she wants every Christian lady without exception to study it, as well as to embrace universal science. Her second argument is founded on that which the study of literature illuminates, and indicates a wisdom that cannot be obtained through the dangerous road of experience. But one might wonder if this precocious prudence costs a certain amount of innocence. The most that one could say in its favor, to support the study of Sciences and Literature, is that it appears certain that it causes distractions which weaken illicit desires.

A Hebrew proverb limits almost all of women’s abilities to their spindle, and Sophocles said that silence was their greatest ornament. At the opposite extreme, Plato wanted them to have the same occupations as men. See the fifth dialog of the Republic.

In the same place, this great philosopher wants women and children to be held as communal property in his republic. This regulation seems absurd; in addition, it gave rise to the very lively rantings of Jean de Serres. [14]

The domestic servitude of wives, as well as polygamy, have led to the degradation of the fair sex in the Orient, and in the end has made them contemptible. Renunciation and divorce have been forbidden to the sex with the greatest need of them, and who can least easily abuse them. The law of Burgundy condemned to burial alive any wife who rejected her legitimate husband. One can consult on all of these subjects the excellent work l’Esprit des lois , book 16. [15] All the Greek poets from Orpheus to St. Gregory of Nazianze had bad things to say about women. Euripides relentlessly insulted them, and all that is left to us of Simonides is a violent invective against them. One will find a great number of citations of Greek poets that are injurious to women in the commentary of Samuel Clarke on verses 426 and 455, book 11 of the Odyssey . [16] Clarke took this collection from Duport’s Gnomologia Homerica (page 208), which he did not cite. [17] The gallant Anacreon, at the same time that he attributes to women a beauty which conquers iron and fire, said that nature has denied them prudence (φρόνημα) which is the province of men.

The Latin poets are no more favorable to the sex; and without speaking of the famous satire of Juvenal, without compiling passages from Ovid and others, I will limit myself to citing this sentence from Publius Syrus: mulier qua sola cogitat, male cogitat , which one of our poets has rendered thus: a woman who thinks certainly does it badly. Plato, in his dialogue Laws (vol. 2, p. 909. E) attributes principally to women the origin of superstition, vows and sacrifices. Strabo agrees ( Geography , book 7, p. 470); the Jews, who did not believe in their superstitious ceremonies, accuse women of magic, and say that the more women there are, the more sorcerers there are.

Perhaps the dark arts, such as superstition and magic, have only been attributed to women because we recognize in them more resources of spirit than we’d like to give them credit for; that seems to be Livy’s meaning when he said that woman is an animal both powerless and indomitable. The principal of the weakness and the inferiority of women would be advantageous to them if everyone agreed with Aristotle that it is a greater crime to kill a woman than a man. See Aristotle’s Problems , section 29, 11.

It is a remarkable thing that one is believed sullied by legitimate commerce with women, and that among the Babylonians, the Arabs, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, one abstained from it on the eve of sacrifices. The Hebrews think that one loses the spirit of prophecy when one engages in even legitimate intercourse, which reminds me of the proud maxim of an ancient philosopher who said that one should only live with women when one wants to become worse.

The rabbis do not believe that woman was created in the image of God; they insist that she was less perfect than man because God only made her to be his helpmeet. A Christian theologian (Lambert Danaeus, in Antiquitatibus , p. 42) taught that the image of God was more vibrant in man than in woman. [18] We find a curious passage in the Histoire des Juifs by M. Basnage (vol. 7, pp. 301 and 302): “God did not want to form woman from the head, nor the eyes, etc. (from fear that she would embody the vices attached to these parts); but no matter how honest and strong the parts of man he chose to make her from, and from which it seems no defect could arise (the rib), woman was not allowed to have them all.” [19] This is the description that the Jewish authors give us. One may find it so accurate a description, in fact, adds M. Basnage, that one would not rank it with their visions, and we suspect that they wanted to disguise a known truth in figurative terms.

Other rabbis have translated as “side” the Hebrew word stelah , which is commonly translated as rib: they recount that the first man was double and androgynous, and that it took only a blow from a hatchet to separate the two bodies. We read the same fable in Plato, from whom the rabbis borrowed it, if one believes M. le Clerc in his commentary on the Pentateuch. [20]

Heidegger observed ( Historia patriarcharum , exercise 4, no. 30) that Moses never spoke of Eve’s soul, and that it was doubted that she had the capacity to reason. [21] Without doubt women were to be pitied in Jewish laws, as M. le Clerc noted in the work cited above (p. 309, column 2). Jesus Christ himself taught that repudiation was permitted to the Hebrews because of the hardness of their hearts; but when he wanted to make it impossible for man to take apart that which God had joined together, his disciples cried out, and claimed that marriage would become a burden. Thomas Crenius (in his Animadversiones philologicae et historicae , part 15, p. 61, 10), [22] remarks that no one mistreated women more nor recommended more to protect oneself from them than Solomon, who nevertheless abandoned himself to them; on the other hand, Jesus Christ was gentler to them, and converted a great number; this is why, he says, some people think that Jesus Christ had a predilection for this sex. Indeed, he had a mother on earth, and had no father at all; the first person to whom he revealed himself after his resurrection was Mary Magdalene.

Since the establishment of the Christian religion those who renounce marriage have been thought to come closest to perfection; the Jews, on the contrary, regarded celibacy as a cursed state. See Pirke Aboth , chap. 1, no. 5. [23]

St. Peter (in his first epistle, chap. 3, verse 7), instructed husbands to treat their wives with honor because they are the most fragile of vessels. The Jews said that woman is an imperfect vessel; that the husband, Hebrew aside, has much more force; for he can make known that a woman, without the security of a husband, is only an embryo. See the Gemara under the title “Sanhedrin of the Talmud,” chap. 2, segment 15.

Petrus Calanna, in a rare book entitled Philosophia seniorum sacerdotia et platonica (p. 173), [24] dares to say that God is male and female at the same time. Godofredus Arnoldus, in his book De sophiâ ,  [25] supported this monstrous opinion, derived from Platonism, which also gave rise to the eons, or hermaphroditic divinities, of the Valentinians. M. de Beausobre, Histoire du Manichéisme (vol. 2, p. 584),  [26] thought these eons were allegorical; and he based his opinion on that of the Christian bishop Synesius, who attributed to God both sexes, even though he knew that God had no bodily organs, let alone those of reproduction. But it is only in Synesius (p. 140 of P. Petau’s edition), that one reads that the body of the Divinity is not formed from the dregs of matter; which is not to say that God has no bodily organs. Besides, as Nicephore Grégoras has done in his commentary on Synesius in several places, one can easily prove that Synesius was an imitator and follower of Plato.

The Manicheans thought that while God created man, he did not form him either male or female, but that the distinction between the two sexes is the work of the devil.

It is commonly said that Mohammed excluded women from paradise; verse 30 of sura 33 of his Qur’an implied the contrary. This is, however, a tradition on which two Muslim authors have written, as can be seen in the Bibliothèque orientale of M. d’Herbelot. [27]

Mohammed condemned to eight lashes of the whip those who accuse women without being able to produce four witnesses against them; and he condemns the calumniators of evil in this world and in the other. The husband can, without witnesses, accuse his wife, provided that he swears four times that he is telling the truth, and that he attaches the imprecation to his oath on the fifth time. The wife can exonerate herself in the same manner. (Sura 24, verses 4 and 6). Mohammed commends the chastity of wives in rather unchaste terms (ibid., verse 32); but it is not quite clear if he promises divine mercy to women who are forced to prostitute themselves, as the scholar Louis Maracci claimed in his refutation of the Qur’an . [28]

The Arab prophet (in sura 4), wants a man to receive twice the inheritance of a woman. He officially decrees the superiority of men, whom he wants women to obey. If they are unruly, he suggest that husbands make them sleep apart and even hit them. He established grave penalties against women guilty of fornication or adultery; despite Maracci’s allegation that he does not advocate punishing men who are culpable of these crimes, he clearly condemns them to a hundred lashes of the whip, as Selden noted ( Uxor ebraica , p. 392). [29] On will see with pleasure in Selden’s book (pp. 467 and following), the origin of Hullas among the Muslims. [30]

Everyone has heard discussed an anonymous dissertation where it is claimed that women are not a part of the human species, mulieres homines non esse . Acidalius [31] explains all the texts that speak of the health of women, of their temporal well-being. He relies on fifty testimonies drawn from scripture; finally he asks women for their traditional kindness toward him; quod si noluerint , he says, percant bestioe in soecula soeculorum . In this way he wants to explain the Anabaptist scripture and other heretics; but his banter is indecent.

Simon Gediccus, [32] after having refuted him as dourly as possible, after having charged him with theological abuses, in the end calls him a bastard, formed from the monstrous coupling of Satan with the human species, and wishes him eternal perdition.


1. Louis-Jean-Marie-Daubenton (who himself contributed articles to the Encyclopedia ) collaborated with Buffon on the Histoire naturelle (Paris, 1749), often cited as a source by contributors to the Encyclopedia . He was responsible for the anatomical drawings. The second reference is to an 8-volume work by a Scottish professor of anatomy, Alexander Monro, Osteology; or a Treatise on the Anatomy of the Bones (Edinburgh, 1726). The third reference is to Frederick Ruysh (1638–1731), a Dutch professor of anatomy.

2. The reference is to The Canon of Medicine (1025), an encyclopedia of Galenic medicine by the Persian scholar Avicenna. It was translated from the original Arabic into Latin in the late twelfth century.

3. Arcangeli Piccolomini (1525–1586), Italian physician and teacher of anatomy.

4. Ambroise Paré (1510–1590), distinguished royal surgeon to French kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. He is considered one of the founders of modern surgery.

5. André du Laurent (1558–1609), French royal physician and professor of medicine at the University of Montpellier.

6. Albert Kyper (d. 1658), professor of practical medicine at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

7. Johann Christian Frommann, Tractatus de fascinatione (Nuremburg, 1675).

8. Hippocrates’ Aphorisms are available at .

9. The Dames de la charité was an organization of elite laywomen founded by the Catholic reformer Vincent de Paul in the early seventeenth century. They devoted themselves to nursing.

10. Sextus Empiricus (160–210), Greek philosopher known primarily for his contributions to skepticism.

11. Johann Albert Fabricius (1668–1736), German classical scholar.

12. Christian Wolff (1679–1754), German philosopher.

13. Anna-Maria van Schurmann (1607–1678), German-Dutch woman of letters and artist. Whether the Study of Letters Is Fitting for a Christian Woman was translated into French in 1646 and English in 1659. It is available in modern English translation: Anna Maria van Schurman, Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated and Other Writing from Her Intellectual Circle , ed and trans by Joyce Irwin, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe, series editors Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

14. Jean de Serres (1540–1598) published an annotated Latin translation of Plato’s works in 1578.

15. Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois (1748).

16. Samuel Clarke (1675–1729), English philosopher. He published an edition of the first twelve books of the Iliad in 1729. Perhaps this is the work (Clarke’s last) to which the author refers.

17. James Duport, Homeri gnomologia (1660).

18. Lambert Daneau (c. 1535–1590) was a Calvinist theologian who is best known for a dialog on witchcraft published in 1564. The reference here may be to his work, Vetustissimarum primi mundiantiquitatu sectiones, seu lib. IIII, tum ex sacris, tum aliis autoribus (1590), of which the first volume covers the creation to the fall.

19. Jacques Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, depuis Jésus-Christ jusqu’à présent, pour servir de supplément àL’Histoire de Josèphe ” (Paris, 1710). This is an abridged edition of a longer work by Basnage published in Rotterdam three years earlier.

20. The reference is to Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736), a protestant theologian.

21. Johann Heinrich Heidegger, De historia sacra patriarcharum exercitationes selectae (Amsterdam, 1667).

22. Thomas Crenius, Animadversiones Philologicæ et Historicæ (1696).

23. Pirkei Avot (Hebrew: פרקי אבות‎), which translates to English as Chapters of the Fathers , is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period. See Wikipedia :

24. Petrus Calanna, Philosophia seniorum sacerdotia et platonica ( Palermo, 1599). Calanna was a Renaissance Platonist.

25. I have not been able to identify De sophia , but the author is the German Lutheran theologian Gottfried Arnold (1666–1714), the author of Unparteyische Kirchen- und Ketzer-historie [An Impartial History of the Church and Heresy] (Frankfurt, 1699–1700), which, according to Wikipedia , was in fact rather partial to heresy.

26. Isaac de Beausobre, Histoire critique de Manichée et du manichéisme (Amsterdam, 1734–39).

27. Barthélemy d’Herbelot de Molainville , Bibliothèque orientale, ou dictionnaire universel contenant tout ce qui regarde la connoissance des peuples de l’Orient (1697). The work was completed and published after Herbelot’s death by Antoine Galland, who went on to produce the first European translation of the Arabian Nights .

28. Ludovico Maracci, Italian priest and professor of Arabic who translated the Qur’an into Latin in 1698.

29. John Selden, Uxor Ebraica: seu De nuptiis et divortiis ex jure civili, id est, divino & Talmudico, veterum Ebraeorum (1646).

30. According to the French dictionary, Littré, “hulla” is “the name given in Turkey to someone who becomes for a single day the husband of a repudiated wife, so that the first husband can remarry her legally.”

31. Valens Acidalius, also known as Valtin Havekenthal (1567–1595), was thought to be the author of the satirical Latin treatise, Disputatio nova contra mulieres, qua probatur eas homines non esse [ A new argument against women, in which it is demonstrated that they are not human beings] (1595).

32. Gediccus’ refutation is Defensio Sexus Muliebris, Opposita Futelissimae Disputationi Recens Editae (1595) or Defense of the Female Sex .