The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies presents “Cleopatra’s Pearl: Luxury and the Medical Marketplace in Early Modern Europe” from noon – 1 p.m. Friday, March 17 in the Sansbury Campus Life Center.
Dr. Lynn Mollenauer will present from her current research on pearl medicines as part of a larger project on wonder drugs in early modern France.
The most commonly consumed pearl medicine at the time was magistère des perles, or ground pearls suspended in vinegar. Mollenauer argues that the remedy’s association with the hedonistic, the wasteful, the foolish, and the feminine account for its decline. The talk would focus on Cleopatra’s pearl.
The story goes (as first recounted by Pliny) that Cleopatra possessed the two largest pearls that had ever been found. She made a wager with Marc Antony that she could serve him a dinner so sumptuous that its price tag would exceed 10,000,000 sesterces (half a million dollars is given as the usual equivalent). At the conclusion of the feast, she removed one of the priceless pearls from her earlobe and called for a glass of vinegar. She then dropped the jewel into the vinegar where it dissolved into slush, and she triumphantly swallowed the mixture. The tale emphasized the voluptuousness and the hedonism of the Egyptian queen. It was told and retold through out the early modern era—one can find it repeated by moralists, playwrights, even compilers of dictionaries. Mollenauer argues that it is critical to understand why, given a largely stable framework for the medical understanding of disease that endured for over two millennia, pearl medicines fell into disuse. That is, challenges from medical practitioners regarding their lack of therapeutic efficacy played less of a role than did condemnation of their cost and their association with feminine luxury and extravagance.
Register for lunch.
Questions about registration, please contact Kristina Pisano, firstname.lastname@example.org.