AGNODIKI from Athens became the first female physician in ancient Greece, at a time when women were not allowed to practice medicine.  


At the same time pregnant women had two choices when giving birth: to get help from a male physician, or to give birth without professional help. Most preferred the second choice, because they were ashamed. As a consequence the mortality of new-borns and young mothers was very high.

AGNODIKI felt it was time to change that. She dressed up like a man, travelled to Alexandria and studied medicine under Irofilos (Herofilos), a famous physician in the ancient world. AGNODIKI returned to Athens and started working as an obstetrician. She revealed secretly her gender to pregnant women, who accepted her services with alleviation.

She was very successful, however, her male colleagues became suspicious and took her to court. She was accused of having unethical relationships with her customers. To avoid conviction for being immoral, AGNODIKI revealed her gender in public, however, she was charged for breaking the law regarding the practice of medicine. 

Fortunately, her request for a second trial was accepted. During the second trial she was found not guilty. On top of that, the law was changed and allowed women to practice medicine from there-off. 

SOURCE: K. Georgakopoulos. Ancient Greece: Ancient Greek Physicians. 1998 Editions IASO. 


Copyright © 2016 Maria Niki Aigyptiadou. 

If you wish to use this material for personal or educational use, feel free to do so and please cite as follows: Maria Niki K. Aigyptiadou. Agnodiki's story., accessed on (date). 

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Read more about medicine in ancient Greece


Ippokratis of Kos (460-370 B.C.) was a Greek physician of the age of Pericles (Classical Greece). His therapeutic approach was holistic and individualised, based on the healing power of nature. He was notable for strict professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice. He is referred to as the ''Father of Western Medicine'' because he believed that diseases were due to natural causes, like nutrition, environmental factors and living habits, as opposed to superstition and religious causes.

He is credited with advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Corpus and other works. The Hippocratic Corpus (Latin: Corpus Hippo-craticum) is a collection of around seventy early medical works. The most famous document in this collection is the Hippocratic Oath, a text on the ethics of medical practice, that is still taken today by medical graduates.

SOURCE:  The complete works of IPPOKRATIS. Volume 1. KAKTOS Editions 1993. 


Enkimisis means falling asleep. In ancient Greece, patients were treated while they were sleeping. First they went through a cleaning ceremony for body and soul that lasted 2 to 3 days and included baths, relaxing exercises, fasting and drinking herbal teas, informational and cultural events, praying and offerings to the gods.

Subsequently they were hypnotised and while asleep, they were treated by healers using herbs for local applications or conducting minor surgery. When they woke up, many healed patients reported having dreams, during which they were cured by a god. Before returning to normal life, they were asked to engrave their experience on a piece of marble. Many of these engraved pieces of marble still exist in museums.

SOURCE: Aristofanis. Ploutos. Editions Ellinika Grammata (Kostas Varnalis) 1998 Lines 633-646


Asklipios, also spelled Asclepius or Aeschulapius, was the god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. He was associated with the Roman and Etruscan god Vediovis and the Egyptian god Imhotep. His symbol was a snake curled around a rod, which is still a symbol of medicine. The snakes, which belonged to a particular non-poisonous species, were used in healing rituals. Herbs were also used to heal and the botanical genus Aslepias (milkweed) is named after the god and corresponds to the medicinal plant A. tuberosa or ‘Pleurisy root’.


The most famous temple of Asklipios was at Epidaurus, in north-eastern Pelopnnese, dated to the fourth century BC. From the fifth century BC onward, Asklipios grew very popular and pilgrims came to his healing temples, called Asklipiia (also spelled Asclepieia) to be cured of their illnesses. 

SOURCE: Pausanias. Description of Greece 2.29.1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue 2nd century AD)