Isabella Luta


The concept of women being overwhelmed by excessive sexual desire had been present in medical discourse for a long time, but the nineteenth century saw a shift from describing this using the term ‘Furor Uterinus’ to ‘Nymphomania’. In this paper I will investigate the significance behind this change and explore how myth influenced medicine to tackle the question of why ‘Nymphomania’ became the preferred term for excessive female sexuality in the 19th century. I will consider the connections between artistic depictions of nymphs and medical descriptions of nymphomaniacs, whilst exploring the etymology of ‘Nymphomania’ and ambiguous uses of Latin and Greek in the history of medicine. This essay is in the field of Classical Reception Studies, looking at the uses and abuses of Roman and Ancient Greek cultural material in later historical periods. I will focus on the multiplicity of meanings of the nymph in the Classical world, from the religious to the erotic, and the resonances of her image in 19th century Britain in the form of female nude paintings exhibited within the specific social context of attitudes towards female art models, prostitution and pornography. I will look at nude paintings of Classical nymphs as a way of accessing hidden sexual discourses and examine to what extent paintings of nymphs were also paintings of nymphomaniacs.

Author Biography

Isabella Luta completed her undergraduate degree in Classics at Newnham College, the University of Cambridge in June 2016. This essay is an abridged version of her final year thesis. She is interested in Classical Reception Studies and the history of medicine, particularly linked to the politics of sexual morality.