Is Agnodice fact or fiction? The main use of this tale within the History of Medicine is by midwives from the XVII century to the present day who have defended themselves against a male-dominated profession seeking to medicalise childbirth. The story's heroine has been invoked as fact, and hence a valuable classical precedent.
A certain maiden named Agnodice desired to learn medicine and since she desired to learn she cut her hair, donned the clothes of a man and became a student of Herophilos. After she learned medicine, she heard a woman crying out in the throes of labor so she went to her assistance. The woman, thinking she was a man, refused her help; but Agnodice lifted up her clothes and revealed herself to be a woman and was thus able to treat her patient. When the male doctors found that their service were not wanted by the women, they began to accuse Agnodice, saying that she had seduced the women and they accused the women of feigning illness to get visits from Agnodice. When she was brought before the law court, the men began to condemn Agnodice. Agnodice once again lifted her tunic to show that she was indeed a woman. The male doctors began to accuse her all the more vehemently for breaking the law forbidding women to study medicine. At this point the wives of the leading men arrived saying ‘you men are not spouses but enemies since you are condemning her who gave health for us’. Then the Athenians emended the law so that freeborn women could study medicine.
Higinus, a Latin author of the first century BC.