Agnodice or Agnodike (c. 4th century BCE) (Gr. Ἀγνοδίκη) was the first female Athenian physician, midwife, and gynecologist, whose life was recounted by Gaius Julius Hyginus. Hyginus, who lived in the 1st century BCE, wrote about Agnodice in his Fabulae. She received her education in Alexandria, Egypt at the University of Alexandria, and studied under Herophilos, the great anatomist of his day. She originally presented herself as a man to her female patients. 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. After Agnodice revealed her sex to a patient in labor who refused male aid, she became a popular practitioner among the women of the city. Her popularity became suspicious, and she was tried for corruption of the women of Athens, as male doctors suspected her of seducing patients. She revealed her true identity and was condemned further by the men of Athens for her deceit and false pretenses, but was acquitted when her many patients arrived at her trial to praise her successes as a physician and chastised their husbands for trying to execute Agnodice. After it concluded, Athenian law changed the law to allow women to be treated by female physicians in Athens.
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.
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