Tuesday 19th February
Helen King (Open University)
‘Agnodice’s First Patient: Gendering Childbirth in Antiquity and Early Modern Europe’

Abstract: In the history of medicine, Agnodice (Hyginus, Fabulae 274) – who disguises herself to learn medicine and must then defend herself on the charge of seducing ‘her’ patients – is a character who has featured on both sides of debates around the proper role of women, from the 16th to the early 20th century. After discussing the origin of the story, and the possibilities of reading it as concerning only midwifery, or as being about women becoming physicians, this paper will use Agnodice as a way of exploring not only the evidence for ancient Greek and Roman women in healing roles, but also the reception of ancient medicine. It will focus on one key passage: that in which Agnodice treats her first patient. How have different readers understood what is wrong with this woman in particular? I shall examine the entry into the story of ‘obstetricians’, and contrasting interpretations of this first patient. Throughout, I shall explore the difficulties of translating words across cultures, the historical value of being sensitive to these differences, and the enduring power of one ancient text across a range of medical-professional debates.

Location:< Wellcome Library, 2nd floor, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE.
Please deposit bags and coats in the ground floor cloakroom and meet in the 2nd floor foyer.
Doors at 6pm prompt, seminar will start at 6.15.

The seminar is the fifth in a new series organised by a group of historians of medicine based at London universities and hosted by the Wellcome Library. The series will be focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th-century medicine).

A full list of all the seminars in the series is available here:

Organising Committee: Elma Brenner (Wellcome Library), Sandra Cavallo (RHUL), John Henderson (BirkbeckUL), Colin Jones (QMUL, convenor), William MacLehose (UCL), Anna Maerker (KCL), Christelle Rabier (LSE), Patrick Wallis (LSE), Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim (Goldsmiths).

Enquiries to Ross MacFarlane (Wellcome Library: [email protected]) or Prof. Colin Jones (Queen Mary University of London: [email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>)