The story begins, innocently enough, in the late sixteenth century. A young scholar, Valentius Acidalius, was working as a teacher in Silesia, and, like many young scholars, he was short of money. He thought to turn an honest penny by publishing a “diverting” pamphlet. In Latin the word homo, like the word man in English, primarily means “a human being, male or female, young or old,” but has the secondary meaning of “adult male.” Valentius thought it would be fun to use this ambiguity to “show” that in the Bible only adult males have souls. If he thought the pamphlet would amuse, he was grievously wrong. Simon Geddicus, a Lutheran scholar, launched a mighty counter-pamphlet entitled A Defense of the Female Sex, in which he proposed “manfully” (he actually uses the word viriliter) to “destroy each and every one of the arguments put forward by Valentius,” who, the reader will learn with regret or satisfaction as the case may be, took a seizure and died.
Much more, and I found it enjoyable light reading.