Metrodora

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Metrodora (c. 200-400 CE) was a Greek female physician and author of the oldest medical text known to have been written by a woman, On the Diseases and Cures of Women. Her medical treatise covers many areas of medicine, including gynecology, but not obstetrics. It was widely referenced by other medical writers in ancient Greece and Rome, and was also translated and published in Medieval Europe. Nothing is known of Metrodora's identity beyond her name.[1] However, several women physicians are known to have existed in the ancient Greco-Roman world, and she is generally regarded as the first female medical writer.

On the Diseases and Cures of Women[edit]

On the Diseases and Cures of Women survives in two volumes, containing 63 chapters. Metrodora's approach was heavily influenced by the work of Hippocrates and the Hippocratic Corpus, as were most physicians of her era, for example, she shared Hippocrates' theories concerning hysteria. Metrodora was decisive about controversial topics involving symptomology and etiology; inflammation of the uterus is one example. She made her own unique contributions to advancing medical understanding of theory and etiology.[2]

Although female physicians were active in gynecology and obstetrics in ancient Greece and Rome, it was rare that women physicians practiced in other areas of medicine. Childbirth and obstetrics in antiquity were viewed as acceptable areas of medical practice for women who were able to gain medical training as physicians, in large part because of the ancient tradition of midwifery and its association with women trained by other women. Metrodora writes on many areas of medicine in On the Diseases and Cures of Women, including all aspects of gynecology, but obstetrics is not dealt with in the volumes that are extant. Surgery was not typically practiced in ancient Greece or Rome, and is also not covered in her treatise. This is in contrast with the writing of another female physician, Aspasia (physician), who covered gynecologic surgery including abortion. Aspasia's work was also often referenced by other physician writers, including Aetius and Soranus.[3] Metrodora did not deal with obstetrics, the traditional domain of midwifery, instead focusing on pathology, the same approach being used by male physicians influenced by Hippocrates. She differed from many other male medical writers of her era in analyzing and referring to the writings of Hippocrates directly, rather than using the proliferation of secondary sources in the intervening centuries as the substance of her work.[4]

Impact[edit]

The first Latin translations of On the Diseases and Cures of Women appeared between the 3rd and 5th centuries.[5] The oldest known manuscript of Metrodora's work is located in Florence, Italy.[6] Metrodora's work was referenced by other physician writers, and also republished in extracts.

The scholarly texts of ancient Greece and Rome were part of the foundation of Western research during the Middle Ages in Europe. Metrodora's work was circulated during this period as well. Her bibliographic references include "a Berenice called Cleopatra" or "mono marciglia", which caused some Medieval publishers to incorrectly attribute her work to the famous Cleopatra VII of Egypt, and it was under the name of "Cleopatra" that On the Diseases and Cures of Women was published by Caspar Wolf in 1566, and then by Israel Spach in 1597.[7]

Metrodora was evidently greatly experienced with clinical practice. Her works reference examinations done both digitally (that is, by hand alone) and using a speculum, and show a detailed familiarity with physiology. She made contributions by formulating classifications of vaginal discharges, and proposed theories on etiology such as the possibility of rectal parasitic infections causing vaginal discharges. Her contributions in these areas appear to have been her original research and theory. There are also many medicine compounds provided in her treatise that have not been found elsewhere.[8] Her work also appears to include the first known alphabetized medical encyclopedia, using alphabetic headings for ease of reference, although it exists in an incomplete manuscript that ends with epsilon.[9][10]

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago[edit]

Metrodora is one of 999 women named in the installation work The Dinner Party by American artist Judy Chicago.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cancik, Hubert; Helmuth Schneider, and David E. Orton. Brill's New Pauly Antiquity, Volume 8. Brill, 2006; digitized by University of Michigan, 2010. p. 219. ISBN 9789004122710. 
  2. ^ James, Sharon L. and Sheila Dillon (2012). A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. John Wiley and Sons. p. 123. ISBN 9781444354805. 
  3. ^ James, Sharon L. and Sheila Dillon (2012). A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. John Wiley and Sons. p. 123. ISBN 9781444354805. 
  4. ^ Furst, Lilian R. (1999). Women Healers and Physicians: Climbing a Long Hill. University Press of Kentucky. p. 138. ISBN 9780813109541. 
  5. ^ Miles, Margaret M. (2011). Cleopatra: A Sphinx Revisited. University of California Press. p. 141. ISBN 9780520243675. 
  6. ^ Howard, Sethanne (2008). Hidden Giants, 2nd Edition. Lulu.com. p. 29. ISBN 9781435716520. 
  7. ^ Miles, Margaret M. (2011). Cleopatra: A Sphinx Revisited. University of California Press. p. 142. ISBN 9780520243675. 
  8. ^ Furst, Lilian R. (1999). Women Healers and Physicians: Climbing a Long Hill. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 138–9. ISBN 9780813109541. 
  9. ^ New Scientist (New Science Publications) 136: 88. 1992. 
  10. ^ Judith P. Hallett, Marilyn B. Skinner, ed. (1997). Roman Sexualities. Princeton University Press. pp. 199–200. ISBN 9780691011783.