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23 June 2012

Hagnodike (3rd century BCE) physician.

Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 BCE - 17CE) was an author and superintendent of the Palatine library in Rome. While he wrote many books on topography, biography, the poems of Virgil, agriculture and bee-keeping, almost all are lost. All that survived are two works: one a poetical astronomy, and the other providing summaries largely of myths taken from other writers. The latter was also almost lost. A single copy from the 10th century survived at the abbey of Freising. In 1535, Jacob Micyllus uncritically transcribed the one copy and made a printed version. He probably gave it the name Fabulae, by which we now know it. By the standard practice of that time, the manuscript was pulled apart during the transcription, and only two small fragments have turned up, used as stiffening in book bindings. Section 274 is titled “Inventors and their inventions”. Some of the inventors are plausibly historical, while others would seem to be legendary. In the middle of this section we find the following (translation by Mary Beard):
“The ancients didn’t have obstetricians, and as a result, women because of modesty perished. For the Athenians forbade slaves and women to learn the art of medicine. A certain girl, Hagnodice, a virgin desired to learn medicine, and since she desired it, she cut her hair, and in male attire came to a certain Herophilus for training. When she had learned the art, and had heard that a woman was in labour, she came to her. And when the woman refused to trust herself to her, thinking that she was a man, she removed her garment to show that she was a woman, and in this way she treated women. When the doctors saw that they were not admitted to women, they began to accuse Hagnodice, saying that he was a seducer and corruptor of women, and that the women were pretending to be ill. The Areopagites, in session, started to condemn Hagnodice, but Hagnodice removed her garment for them and showed that she was a woman. Then the doctors began to accuse her more vigorously, and as a result the leading women came to the Court and said: “You are not husbands, but enemies, because you condemn her who discovered safety for us.” Then the Athenians amended the law, so that free-born women could learn the art of medicine.”
  • Helen King. “Agnodice”. In Simon Hornblower & Antony Spawforth (eds). The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Gaius Julius Hyginus translated by Mary Grant. “Fabulae”. Theoi E-Texts.
  • “Gaius Julius Hyginus”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Herophilus (Greek: Ἡρόφιλος) (335-280 BCE) was born in Chalcedon (now Kadiköy, Turkey) and taught and practiced medicine in Alexandria.  However Hagnodike is said to be in Athens, and Herophilus  is not recorded as ever teaching in Athens.

Agnodice is the Latin form of the name; ‘Aγνοδίκη=Hagnodike the Greek.

The accusation that, while taken as male, Hagnodike  was seducing and corrupting his female clients, resembles the Christian transvestite saint stories of some centuries later.  The Christian saints are discussed in several books, but there is no one web page that summarizes them.  I have featured very few of them on this site in that it is usually impossible to pin their story down to a specific time and place.

The tale of Hagnodike  was used from the Renaissance onwards as a precedent justifying female medical workers.

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