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The Turkish Journal of Pediatrics 2010; 52: 218-226 Review Neonatal medicine in ancient art Murat Yurdakök Department of Pediatrics, Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine, Ankara, Turkey SUMMARY: Yurdakök M. Neonatal medicine in art. Turk J Pediatr 2010; 52: 218-226. There are a limited number of artistic objects from ancient times with particular importance in neonatal medicine. The best examples are figurines from ancient Egypt of Isis nursing Horus, showing the importance of breast- feeding. The earliest images of the human fetus were made by the Olmecs in Mexico around 1200- 400 BCE. One of the earliest representations of congenital anomalies is a figurine of diencephalic twins thought to be the goddess of Anatolia, dated to around 6500 BCE. In addition to these figurines, three sets of twins in the ancient world have medical importance, and Renaissance artists often used them as a subject for their paintings: “direct suckling animals” (Romulus and Remus), “heteropaternal superfecundation” (mother: Leda, fathers: Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, and Leda’s husband, Tyndareus), and “twin-to-twin transfusion” in monozygotic twins (Jacob and Esau). Key words: neonatal medicine, ancient art, history of medicine. As in all areas of daily life, the gods of Egypt who created the soul (ka) of the baby while were also connected to the birth process. The it was still in the uterus, helps to protect god Thoth was often called upon for help. the delivery, and further predicts the future Severe labor pains might be soothed by the god of the infant. Amun, gently blowing in as a cool northern Despite this divine intervention, birth itself breeze. Khnum was the creator of human's was dangerous both to the mother and baby. bodies on his potter's wheel, and breathed Even if safely delivered, the newborn Egyptian’s the life force into the child and gave health future was far from secure. Infant mortality to the newborn after birth. The chthonic was high, probably around 30 percent. Natural frog goddess Heqet was also associated with selection played its part by eliminating the fertility and giving birth. A guardian of women weak and sickly or those with congenital and children, the mother goddess Het-Hert (Hathor), often depicted as either a cow or a defects and deformities in the first days of woman with the head of a cow, was believed life. Many succumbed to disease, especially to be present at every birth. to infections that were so prevalent where hygiene was poor. During delivery, women would place two small statues for the gods Bes and Taweret. Dwarf- Depictions dealing with the actual practicalities god Bes was the protector of women and of giving birth are very rare. There are some children. He is often seen holding a
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