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date: 23 October 2017


Appears in Hyginus (3) (Fab.274) in a list of discoverers and inventors. She is described as an Athenian girl who lived at a time when there were no midwives, because women and slaves were forbidden to learn medicine; this scenario matches no known historical period. Disguising herself as a man, Agnodice studied medicine under ‘a certain Herophilus’, and then practised medicine at Athens successfully, challenging the professional monopoly on the part of male doctors. Accused by her jealous rivals of seducing her patients, Agnodice demonstrated her innocence by performing the gesture of anasyrmos, lifting her tunic to expose her lower body. This revelation led to a charge of practising medicine unlawfully, but she was saved when the wives of the leading men lobbied the Areopagus in her defence. Hyginus claims that Athenian law was then changed so that freeborn women could study medicine.

This story, variously argued to be an historical account, a novella, or a myth, had enormous influence in the history of medicine from the Renaissance onwards, being used as a precedent both for a female monopoly on midwifery and for women doctors.


C. Bonner, American Journal of Philology 1920, 253–264.Find this resource:

H. King, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 1986, 53–77.Find this resource:

D. Nickel, International Congress of the History of Medicine 1981, 2. 170–173,Find this resource:

Real-Encyclopädie d. klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 1/1. 831.Find this resource:

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