Agnodice 3rd Century BCE is probably the first physician of antiquity, who has worked as a gynecologist.

when? 300 AD. ...................... where? Alexandria/Egypt and Athens/Greece


Stone relief from Isola Dell’ Sacra, Ostia, 1st century CE
Stone relief from Isola Dell’ Sacra, Ostia, 1st century CE

She is credited with achieving the role of physician, although it was forbidden to her by law. It is highly unlikely that she was an veritable historical figure in third century Athens; more likely, she belongs to the realm of myth and folk tale. Her story comes to us through Hyginus, a Latin author of the first century CE:


A certain maiden named Agnodice desired to learn medicine and since she desired to learn she cut her hair, donned the clothes of a man and became a student of Herophilos. After she learned medicine, she heard a woman crying out in the throes of labor so she went to her assistance. The woman, thinking she was a man, refused her help; but Agnodice lifted up her clothes and revealed herself to be a woman and was thus able to treat her patient. When the male doctors found that their service were not wanted by the women, they began to accuse Agnodice, saying that she had seduced the women and they accused the women of feigning illness [to get visits from Agnodice]. When she was brought before the law court, the men began to condemn Agnodice. Agnodice once again lifted her tunic to show that she was indeed a woman. The male doctors began to accuse her all the more vehemently [for breaking the law forbidding women to study medicine]. At this point the wives of the leading men arrived saying “you men are not spouses but enemies since you are condemning her who discovered health for us.” Then the Athenians emended the law so that freeborn women could study medicine.

Midwives from the seventeenth century to the present day have used this tale to defend themselves against a male-dominated profession seeking to medicalize childbirth. Agnodice has been invoked as fact, and cited as a pioneering midwife, a precedent for women in medicine in general.


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