The next seminar in the History of Pre-Modern Medicine academic seminar series, will take place on Tuesday 19th February.
Helen King (Open University)
‘Agnodice’s First Patient: Gendering Childbirth in Antiquity and Early Modern Europe’
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.
The seminar will take place in the 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, the seminar will start at 6.15pm.
The seminar series is 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).
Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.