Abortion in Classical Literature

Maitri Dalal '16

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The project: Ms. Dalal analyzed a number of works of classical literature that deal with the topic of abortion, including writings by the Roman poet Ovid and Greek philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Hippocrates. Comparing the ancient texts to today’s debate, she found that many of the same arguments are still being put forth, suggesting that similar gender and power dynamics continue to influence the discussion.

From her paper: “While the science behind abortions has changed, the conversation remains the same. The literary works of the ancient Greek and Roman scholars prove that many current dynamics in the discussion of abortion can be traced back to the Classical era. In Congress, the various legislative acts restricting access to abortions put forth ideas reminiscent of the ones the Classical scholars discussed. For example, there persists a lack of focus on the women having abortions, which is a factor originated from the ancient world. Similar dynamics, like men being at the forefront of the discussion, lead to similar outcomes for both time periods.”

Biggest challenge: “Coming up with a thesis. I knew what I wanted to talk about and I knew what my subject was but I just didn’t know how to connect the Classical era to the contemporary era. It took me a while. I had to do a lot of research before I could come up with a clear thesis.”

Surprising discovery: “It was surprising to me how similar both time periods were. I think a lot of people think the conversation on abortion has evolved because we know so much more, but there are actually a lot of similarities between the two time periods.”

Tip for future scholars: “Choose something you are interested in, something that you don’t know a lot about, because the project kind of becomes your baby for two months. Don’t choose something that you already know about; choose something that every time you do research you’ll discover something new.”