Caesarean section--Julius Caesar was evidently not delivered this way

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sat Feb 14 18:06:15 UTC 2004

OED2 says of "Caesarean birth, operation, section": "the delivery of
a child by cutting through the walls of the abdomen when delivery
cannot take place in the natural way, as was done in the case of
Julius Caesar."

_The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology_, however, is more cautious:
"1615 'Caesarean section,"...; so called from the belief (often
disputed) that Julius Caesar was born by means of this operation."

Meanwhile, note "Origin Of the Term: Cesarean Section" in
_Gynecologic, Obstetric, and Related Surgery_, edited by David H
Nichols and Daniel L. Clarke-Pearson (St. Louis et al: Mosby), 2000,
    "Pliny, who some refer to as a 'lying historian,' was in error
when he stated that some of the Caesars, Julius in particular, were
delivered by an abdominal incision. ...Festus stated that those
persons delivered by abdominal incision were called 'caesones.' [G.
Cohen: from "caesus" = cut]. Isidorus of Seville firmly and
erroneously established the relationship between the operation and
the person Julius Caesar and referred to such persons as 'Caesares.'
According to Pundel, Rousset, author of the first text on the
subject, became confused with Pliny's Latin text. -- de Chauliac and
Roesslin both perpetuated the story, and it has been repeated in
print as late as March 1985.  The myth was preserved in the Middle
Ages in many manuscripts in the 1300s in _the Faits des Romains_.
The first printed version of _The Twelve Caesars written in the
second century, printed in 1506, includes a woodblock print that
purports to be the first picture of a cesarean section.  This is an
error because Aurelia was present at his triumphs." [G. Cohen;
Aurelia was Caesar's mother; assumption: a Caesarean section in early
times would be performed only on a woman not expected to survive.]

Bottom line:
1) OED should be cautious about saying that Julius Caesar was
delivered by Caesarean section.
2) An overall study of the origin of "Caesarean section"--especially
with bibliographic references--might be in order.

Gerald Cohen
P.S. Re: Pundel (mentioned above), I see a J.P. Pundel wrote
_Histoire de L'Opérqtion Cesarienne_ (1969), and that it's said to
have a bibliography.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list