,Geheimnisse der Frauen‘: Ein neues Buch für Göttingen / ‘Women’s Secrets’: A new book for Göttingen

Secreta mulierum (,Women’s Secrets‘), German / 1509 / SUB Göttingen, Cod. Ms. 2022.30

In disem buchlin ist vnd

wirt begriffen ain Trac-

tat die der Selig doctor

Mangnus albertus besch-

riben hat Vnd ist genant

zu latin Secretum mulier-

rum und zu tütsch

es genempt vnd gehaissen

von der frowen haimlich

ait der frowen 1 gar nütz-

lich zu wissen

This booklet includes and

presents a treatise,

which the blessed doctor

Albertus Magnus

wrote. And (this treatise)

in Latin is called Secretum mulierum

and in German it is

titled and named

‘ Of women’s secrets’

– very useful

to know.

These lines in red ink are the beginning of the text of a manuscript that the SUB Göttingen was able to acquire in 2022 (SUB Göttingen, Cod. Ms. 2022.30, p. 1). They are followed by explanations on the nature of the female body and the development of embryos. This manuscript, in fact, displays the translation of a Latin work that has been known by its historical title Secreta mulierum (‘Women’s Secrets’) until the present day. The theologian, scientist and philosopher Albertus Magnus (c. 1200–1280) is probably named as the author so as to provide the piece with scholarly authority. Today it is regarded as certain that the treatise, probably composed in the late thirteenth century, was not written by Albertus Magnus. Yet it probably comes from the context of a monastery or university. The title ‘Women’s Secrets’, which suggests a taboo of gynaecological themes, in any case points to a male perspective.

Image of the watermark (ox head with cross and flower), taken by the Austrian Watermark Imaging System (Cod. Ms. 2022.30, p. 15)

This fairly small-scale manuscript (c. 140 x 90 mm) is dated to 1509 on its final page (p. 194). As investigations at the SUB Göttingen by Dr. Almut Breitenbach have shown, the dating can be confirmed by water marks in the paper. Thus, the manuscript dates to a time when the Secreta mulierum circulated across Europe in a variety of versions: in Latin and in translations in the vernacular, in manuscripts and in prints. The treatise was translated into German several times. The version in the Göttingen manuscript can be categorised as belonging to a version that is known as ‘East Central German translation’ because of its dialect on the basis of sources discussed so far. According to findings by Dr. Almut Breitenbach the language of the Göttingen manuscript points to an origin in Northern Bavaria / Nuremberg. It is uncertain who commissioned the manuscript, and its later history is unknown. The manuscript reappears only in the twentieth century, when it moved from an Hungarian second-hand bookshop (where it was restored) to the private collection of Anthony Fekete, Göttingen, from whom it was bought by the SUB Göttingen. Information about the early usage history of the manuscript is provided only by Latin later additions on pages 145, 162 and 168 , written in a script influenced by Humanism, i.e. in the writing style of a (probably male) scholar.

Already in the book Buch von der Stadt der Frauen written in 1405 by Christine de Pisan the Secreta mulierum was criticized as misogynistic since the work described ‘defects’ of women and was full of lies. The latter point cannot be confirmed in general; for– except for some basic errors – the Secreta mulierum present the current level of medical and natural philosophical knowledge on the female body at the time of composition. Besides, it is not uncommon in this period that astrological aspects play a major role: here as elsewhere it is assumed that the position of the planets at the time of birth influences character traits of the child. The Secreta mulierum also include explicitly misogynistic passages, such as the warning of particular female trickery. The various reworkings and translations deal differently with those passages. What is characteristic of the ‘East Central German version’ is that the preface does not simply talk of ‘secrets’ and rather of ‘secrets arts or abilities’ of women; this ascribes agency to women while it leaves it open how these ‘arts’ could be applied. Some of the misogynistic passages elsewhere are not included in the ‘East Central German translation’, for instance a pregnancy test to be carried out by men with women – including a warning of female trickery. In the Göttingen manuscript the recipe as such (without the warning) was later added in Latin (on p. 145):

Experimentum verum et expertum conceptionis. D[et]

quis mulieri bibere mellieratum, si tunc senserit

punctiones circa umbilicum, concepit, si autem non s[en-]

serit, minime concepit. E(xci)p(e) autem mellieratum po[tum],

q(ui) fit ex aqua et melle et per hunc modum: Ạ[cci-]

pi debent duo coclearia de aqua, et unum de me[lle]

tali proportione, et misceantur insimul, et d[etur]

mulieri ad potandum, in introitu lecti, uel p[ost]

“A reliable and proven test for pregnancy. A woman should be given a honeyed drink: if she should then have felt pangs around the navel, she will be pregnant; if she should not have noticed anything, she will certainly not be pregnant. Take a honeyed drink that is made of water and honey, in this way: one should take two spoons of water and one (spoon) of honey, in such a proportion [i.e. 2:1] and mix them together, and should give it to the woman to drink, when she goes to bed or after …”

The other two additions suggest that the learned user intended to create a connection to a practical application. The test with honeyed water is already attested for antiquity (Hippocrates). The wording of the later additions in this manuscript has been taken from the commentary section of a Latin version of the Secreta mulierum.

The additions in particular create links to other manuscripts and early prints held by the SUB that deal with gynaecology and midwifery from a more practical point of view.

Medical composite manuscript / 16th century (first quarter?) / SUB Göttingen, 8° Cod. Ms. hist. nat. 42

This book consists of several booklets that have been bound together and comprise handwritten medical texts. Fol. 53r is the first page of a collection of recipes for cures against ‘female disorders’ (erczney zu der frauen kranckheit); a number of individual women are mentioned as authors. The first group of recipes is ascribed to ‘Geumanyn’ in the heading written in red ink; nothing further is known about this woman. The penultimate recipe on this page deals with the absence of regular periods.

8° Cod. Ms. hist. nat. 42, fol. 53r

¶ welcher frauen ir zeit nit kümpt

die sol sieden pücken

in wasser oder in wein vnd sol

das trincken vnd sol das selb gesot[]

ten krautt vber ir scham legen

also warm

‘Women, who do not have regular periods, should boil mugwort in water or wine and should drink this and should put this boiled herb, warm as it is, on their private parts.’

Click here for the catalogue description

Eucharius Rößlin: ‘Der schwangeren Frauen und Hebammen Rosengarten’ / 1528 / SUB Göttingen, 8° Cod. Ms. hist. nat. 51

8° Cod. Ms. hist. nat. 51, fol. 20v

The apothecary and medic Eucharius Rößlin (c. 1470–1526) is regarded as ‘Europe’s teacher of midwives’. His handbook for midwives, first printed in 1513, has had an impact into the eighteenth century. Like the first print and later editions, the Göttingen manuscript, dating to 1528, displays several illustrations. Among other items, different positions of unborn babies in the flask-shape womb are depicted. That the style of the pictures in the manuscript is in line with those of the prints can be seen in the Göttingen copy of a print published in the same year (8 MED CHIR III, 61118).

Click here for the catalogue description

Works ascribed to Albertus Magnus, including ‘Secrets of Women’ / 1613 / SUB Göttingen, 8 PATR LAT 1766/47

8 PATR LAT 1766/47, p. 16–17

The SUB Göttingen owns the only copy of this print consisting of German versions of several works ascribed to Albertus Magnus. The print’s title includes a mention of ‘the secrecy of women’ (der Fruwens ere Heimlicheit). This title here refers to a piece providing practical explanations of pregnancy and midwifery. The illustrations support the aspect of concrete application. They are similar to those of the prints of the Rosengarten (see above), while they show more anatomical details.


  • Bosselmann-Cyran, Kristian: ›Secreta mulierum‹ mit Glosse in der deutschen Bearbeitung von Johann Hartlieb. Text und Untersuchungen. Pattensen (Han.) 1985 (Würzburger medizinhistorische Forschungen 36).
  • Kruse, Britta-Juliane: „Die Arznei ist Goldes wert“. Mittelalterliche Frauenrezepte. Berlin/New York 1999.
  • Lemay, Helen: Women’s Secrets. A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’s De Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries. New York 1992.
  • Schleissner, Margaret Rose: Pseudo-Albertus Magnus: Secreta mulierum cum commento, Deutsch: Critical text and commentary. Diss. Princeton University 1987.
  • Ead.: ‘Secreta mulierum’, in: 2Verfasserlexikon 8 (1992), col. 986–993 + 2Verfasserlexikon 11 (2004), col. 1402.
  • Sherwood-Smith, Maria C.: Forschung oder Vorurteil, Kultur oder Naturkunde? Zur Frage der Frauenfeindlichkeit in den deutschen und niederländischen Bearbeitungen der ‘Secreta mulierum’ von Pseudo-Albertus Magnus. In: Natur und Kultur in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters: Colloquium Exeter 1997. Ed. by Alan Robertshaw and Gerhard Wolf. Tübingen 1999, pp. 163–174.
  • Wolfinger, Lukas: 8° Cod. Ms. hist. nat. 42 und 8° Cod. Ms. hist. nat. 51. In: Manuscript Database Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (last visited on 14/4/2023).

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Henrike Manuwald (2023, 17. April). ,Geheimnisse der Frauen‘: Ein neues Buch für Göttingen / ‘Women’s Secrets’: A new book for Göttingen. Selten und Bemerkenswert . Abgerufen am 22. Juni 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/ulkt

  1. der frowen seems to be repeated here by mistake.[]

Henrike Manuwald

Professorin für Germanistische Mediävistik am Seminar für Deutsche Philologie der Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

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