Lecture 1: Vagina Dentata

In this illustrated talk, Professor Marguerite Johnson considers the mindboggling topic of vagina dentata (or toothed vagina). We begin by tracing the topic as folklore, then move to the widespread belief in the toothed vagina from North America to South America to New Zealand and elsewhere, including one or two folk tales, before considering the possible reasons for its origin (castration anxiety? cautionary tale? misogyny? fear? medical anomaly?). Finally, we look at some modern iterations, including in art and film, and ask: Why is this still around?

For a peak preview of some of the topics we’ll be looking at in this lecture, read Sezin Koehler’s ‘Pussy Bites Back: Vagina Dentata Myths From Around the World’, Vice (June 15, 2017): https://www.vice.com/en/article/payq79/pussy-bites-back-vagina-dentata-myths-from-around-the-world

Image for Lecture = ‘Untitled’. Creative Commons


Marguerite Johnson is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland. She is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality, gender, and the body, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Bodies Behaving Badly – From Vagina Dentata to Wandering Wombs – 6 part Lecture Series

This is the first lecture in a special six-part series, Professor Marguerite Johnson takes us on an uncanny journey across time and space into the wilds of human imagination. Each lecture introduces a particular case study – from vaginas that bite to penises that disappear – and is extensively illustrated along with written accounts of these bodily anomalies. Participants will also receive a reading list for those interested in pursuing the topics in more detail.

Image for Series: Mary Magdalene, 15th century, wood, from Altschwendt, Austria

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