In this interview Professor Helen King from The Open University tells us about the fascinating ancient story of Agnodike ‘the Flashing Midwife’, and its uses by medical practitioners in later eras. The tale first appears in a Latin text by Hyginus, before re-entering the Western tradition in 1535. As Prof. King explains in an article written for the Wellcome History website:

“The bare details – Agnodike disguises herself as a man in order to learn medicine, but then reveals her true sex to women in labour, until she is taken to court – were fleshed out in many different ways by writers from 1600 onwards who enlisted her as a classical ally to fight their contemporary battles: men trying to enter midwifery, women trying to prevent them, midwives seeking to raise the status of their profession, women struggling to enter other areas of the medical profession, and men endeavouring to keep them out. It featured in debates about Caesarean section and abortion, despite neither even being mentioned in the original Latin text. Studying the extraordinary range of variations in how this story was told provides a window on to the medical debates of the early modern and modern periods, and illustrates how a story from even a very marginal Latin writer could be seen as powerful enough to support various positions in professional and gender politics.”

Follow this link or click on the image below to watch our interview on YouTube!