or Agnodike (c. 4th century BCE) (Greek. Ἀγνοδίκη)
was according to Greek mythology the first female Athenian physician, midwife, and gynecologist, whose story was recorded by Gaius Julius Hyginus. Hyginus, who lived in the 1st century BCE, wrote about Agnodice in his Fabulae.
Early life – Her desire to become a physician initiated from witnessing increased numbers of women dying or undergoing painful childbirths. Though women were allowed to learn gynecology, obstetrics, healing, and midwifery in the time of Hippocrates, after his death the leaders of Athens discovered that women were performing abortions, and made becoming a female doctor a capital crime. Agnodice, determined to become a physician and help the women of Athens, cut her hair and donned the clothes of a man to pursue medical training. Agnodice then used an alleged friend’s sickness to account for her future leave to pursue medical training. She then left Athens to study medicine in nearby Egypt, where women played an important role in the medical community. Influence on Women in Medicine – Before Agnodice, women were taking care of the sick, as well as trying to figure out how the body worked and causes of diseases. Women were also midwives, helping deliver babies, but were not allowed to practice medicine. For the Greeks, Agnodice trial brought changes with the Athenians law which thereby allowed women to study medicine. Agnodice’s story has also been used through the seventeenth century as a tale for midwives to defend themselves against male-dominated professions seeking to incorporate the study of medicine into childbirth. Myth – Some research has suggested that Agnodice was instead a mythical figure. Her name is cited as one piece of evidence for this theory - Agnodice in Greek translates to “chaste before justice”; a common practice in Greek myths was to name characters after their virtues. Agnodice dramatically revealing her sex by lifting her skirt was another popular device used in myths, statuettes of women doing so were considered in the Classical period to have power against evil. Nevertheless, Agnodice has become a symbolic figure for female doctors in recent times. Read More