Monday, 18 May 2009

"Medieval" Twins Born

I believe I'm right in my belief that in the middle ages there was a superstition that a woman who gave birth to twins must have done so by having intercourse with two different men. "Hogwash!" you may say, or perhaps "Those crazy medieval people, they should've known better, how ignorant!" Well, as it turns out, perhaps not so ignorant as we might think. In what fixed news is calling a "miracle of science," a woman in Dallas has given birth to a pair of twins who have different fathers. Not only that, she did so not by artificial insemination, as the term "miracle of science" might imply, but rather, by having "an affair that resulted in two babies." I kid you not.

Scientists have a fancy name for this: heteropaternal superfecundation. I think in English that translates roughly as "different fathers, super productive" -- I think she should get herself a coat of arms and use that as the motto. Maybe have a picture of some rabbits on there for effect.

Can you tell I'm having a slow day?




Joyce DiPastena said...

Thank you for this post! I have a medieval novel coming out this fall that actually includes this superstition about twins as a plot device. Now if anyone challenges me, I can refer them here as well as to Shulamith Shahar's "Childhood in the Middle Ages". :-)

squadratomagico said...

In one of the lais of Marie de France -- I think Le Fresne -- this belief figures as an important point. A woman uses this belief to slur her neighbor who has just given birth to twins, implying that the neighbor has committed adultery. Then she herself has twins and, in order to save face, abandons one secretly. The setup suggests that Marie, at least, did not believe in this theory. The woman is presented as repentant for her gossip-mongering after it comes back to haunt her, a faithful wife.