The Legacy of Agnodice: The First Woman Doctor in Ancient Greece
Agnodice, born in 300 BCE, was a pioneering figure in ancient Greek medicine. At a time when women were forbidden from studying and practicing medicine, Agnodice broke the law by disguising herself as a man in order to attend medical school in Alexandria.
Upon returning to Athens, she was able to help a woman in labor, who initially refused her assistance because she believed Agnodice to be a man. The story of her actions spread among the women of Athens, and many began to seek her help for their medical needs.
However, the male doctors of Athens grew envious of Agnodice’s success and accused her of seducing female patients. When her true identity was revealed at her trial, she was sentenced to death for her actions.
But, the women of Athens revolted against the sentence, particularly the wives of the judges who had given the death penalty. The judges ultimately lifted Agnodice’s sentence, and from then on, women were allowed to practice medicine, but only if they treated other women.
In this way, Agnodice is remembered as the first Greek female doctor, physician, and gynecologist. Her legacy lives on through a plaque depicting her at work that was excavated in Ostia, Italy.
It is important to note that this trend of medicalization of women’s health and marginalization of women in the field of medicine didn’t end with ancient Greece, and it still continues today in various forms. The story of Agnodice serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for women’s access to medical knowledge and agency over their own health.
this story was Originally presented by New Inquiry with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.
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