Infant exposure

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In ancient times, a method of infanticide was to abandon infants to die due to hypothermia, hunger, thirst, or animal attack.[1][2]


This form of child abandonment is a recurring theme in mythology, especially among hero births.

Some examples include:

Following the exposure, the infants are commonly reared by wild animals or adopted by lowly country folk, such as shepherds, before reaching maturity.


Otto Rank explores this topic in his book, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. The exposure, especially in water, "signifies no more and no less than the symbolic expression of birth. The children come out of the water. The basket, box, or receptacle simply means the container, the womb; so that the exposure directly signifies the process of birth".

Further, according to Rank, these myths epitomize the natural psychological tension between parent and child. In all these stories there exists "a tendency to represent the parents as the first and most powerful opponents of the hero .... The vital peril, thus concealed in the representation of birth through exposure, actually exists in the process of birth itself. The overcoming of all these obstacles also expresses the idea that the future hero has actually overcome the greatest difficulties by virtue of his birth, for he has victoriously thwarted all attempts to prevent it." [3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Justin Martyr, First Apology.
  2. ^ Boswell, John Eastburn (1984). "Exposition and oblation: the abandonment of children and the ancient and medieval family". American Historical Review. 89 (1): 10–33. JSTOR 1855916. doi:10.2307/1855916. 
  3. ^ Rank, Otto. The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. Vintage Books: New York, 1932.