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Patty Baker

Complex perceptions existed about abortion in the ancient world, indicated by different medical definitions of what constituted an abortive, contraceptive, and expulsive. According to Soranus (1st/2nd century ce) an abortive was “that which destroys what has been conceived”; a contraceptive (atokion) was something that prevents conception, and an expulsive (ekbolion) could be defined in two ways (Gyn 1.59–65). Some thought it was synonymous with an abortive because both resulted in the termination of a pregnancy. In contrast, others defined an expulsive strictly as shaking and leaping to dislodge the fetus from the womb. In explaining this, Soranus (Gyn 1.60) repeats a story told in the Hippocratic work (see hippocrates) Nature of the Child (13, L7.488–490; late 5th bce) about a dancing girl thought to be six days pregnant. She was told to expel the seed by jumping up and down so her heels touched her buttocks. After the seventh leap, the fetus dropped from her body. This technique for early-stage abortion was preferable to termination caused by pharmaceutical preparations and surgical intervention, which could cause harm to the mother. Therefore, Soranus stated that it was safer to prevent pregnancy than to perform an abortion (Gyn 1.



Helen King

Appears in *Hyginus (3) (Fab.274) in a list of discoverers and inventors. She is described as an Athenian girl who lived at a time when there were no *midwives, because women and slaves were forbidden to learn medicine; this scenario matches no known historical period. Disguising herself as a man, Agnodice studied medicine under ‘a certain Herophilus’, and then practised medicine at Athens successfully, challenging the professional monopoly on the part of male doctors. Accused by her jealous rivals of seducing her patients, Agnodice demonstrated her innocence by performing the gesture of anasyrmos, lifting her tunic to expose her lower body. This revelation led to a charge of practising medicine unlawfully, but she was saved when the wives of the leading men lobbied the *Areopagus in her defence. Hyginus claims that Athenian law was then changed so that freeborn women could study medicine.



Gillian Clark

Childbirth was generally the concern of women, either family and neighbours or experienced *midwives who were sometimes ranked as doctors, but male doctors expected to be called in for difficult cases. Several treatises in the Hippocratic corpus (see hippocrates (2)) include some discussion of childbirth. On the Nature of the Child ascribes the onset of labour to the movement of the foetus, which breaks the membranes. Diseases of Women says that prolonged and unsuccessful labour usually means a difficult presentation, stillbirth, or multiple birth. Suggestions include vigorous shaking to stimulate delivery, and drugs to speed labour (ōkytokia); if all else fails, the doctor may resort to embryotomy, the extraction by instruments of a foetus which is stillborn or impossible to deliver alive. The uterus is envisaged as a container rather than as a powerful muscle, and labour is described as pains not contractions. *Aristotle (HA 586b) notes that pains can occur in the thighs and the lower back as well as the lower abdomen, and that women can help delivery by effort and correct breathing.



Helen King

Gynaecology existed in the ancient world as a medical specialism, but its separate identity was not always permitted by wider medical theories. The significant question was this: do women have diseases peculiar to their sex, or are they subject to the same conditions as men, only requiring a separate branch of medicine to the extent that they have different organs to be affected? In other words, is gynaecology necessary?The majority of the surviving gynaecological treatises come from the Hippocratic corpus (see hippocrates (2)) and probably date to the late 5th and early 4th cents. bce. These treatises include three volumes of Gynaecia (Mul.), usually translated as ‘Diseases of Women’, but which can also mean women's sexual organs, *menstruation, or therapies for women's diseases. In contrast to the rest of the Hippocratic corpus, these texts include long lists of remedies using plant and animal ingredients. The third volume concerns the treatment of barren women. A separate short treatise discusses the medical problems of unmarried girls at puberty (Virg.



Henriette Harich-Schwarzbauer

The philosopher Hypatia (350/370–415 ce) is one of the outstanding figures in the intellectual life of Late Antiquity. She is considered a symbol of the transformation of science and philosophy under the Christian bishops in Alexandria at the end of the 4th century ce. Her life and her works are well documented in different literary genres and by famous authors, namely by Synesius of Cyrene in his letters. The extant testimonies on her work prove that she was the guiding light of astronomy in Alexandria, where she was held in high esteem. Unsurprisingly, she became the target of aggression, and she was murdered ferociously in 415. Hypatia has been commemorated in the Byzantine and the Western traditions. She has experienced an impressive revival since the Enlightenment; even in the 21st century she is depicted as a heroine in fiction and film.Hypatia appears to have spent her entire life in her hometown of .


Soranus, of Ephesus, physician  

Helen King

Under *Trajan and *Hadrian (ce 98–138), studied at *Alexandria (1) and practised at Rome.

He wrote around twenty books, their subjects including a wide range of medical topics (e.g. On Hygiene, On Acute and Chronic Diseases), medical biography, commentaries and discussions of grammar and etymology. Those surviving in Greek are sections and fragments of On Signs of Fractures and On Bandages—these may both belong to the same lost work, On the Art of Surgery—and Gynaecology. The latter gives valuable information on *gynaecology and obstetrics in the Roman empire, and is divided into

(1) the midwife, female anatomy and conception;

(2)*childbirth and the care of the newborn;

(3)*pathology and diet;

(4)*surgery and drugs (see pharmacology ).

Soranus shared the theoretical standpoint of the Methodists (see medicine , § 5.3), but his version of Methodism was less schematic in its classification of diseases, giving more space for individual variation between patients.


women in science  

Sophia Connell

Women were involved in both practical and theoretical aspects of scientific endeavour in the ancient world. Although the evidence is scant, it is clear that women innovated techniques in textile manufacture, metallurgy, and medical sciences. The most extensive engagement of women in science was in medicine, including obstetrics, gynaecology, pharmacology, and dermatology. The evidence for this often comes from male medical writers. Women were also involved in the manufacture of gold alloys, which interested later alchemists. Maria of Alexandria innovated equipment and techniques while also theorizing about chemical change. Many of the works ascribed to women in antiquity were not written by women. However, they do indicate what sorts of sciences were taken to be the province of women.

Scientific achievements are not the result of individual genius. Science has been a collective endeavour, involving the whole structure of society. The ancient world is no exception to this. Indeed, what is known about the desire for knowledge and control of the physical world indicates that the ways in which Greeks and Romans pursued it were various and diverse, and included the thoughts and activities of many women.