Leoparda – 4th Century – Constantinople

Constantinople

Leoparda

Leoparda lived and worked at the court of Emperor Gratian as a gynaecologist, serving the medical needs of the women at the Byzantine court.

She was a respected doctor who we know about from a book by her colleague, the emperor’s physician, Theodorus Priscianus. Priscianus wrote a book on women’s medicine which was intended to teach women in medical professions.

Ad Timotheum fratrem. Book III: Gynaecea ad Slavinam was dedicated to Leoparda, as well as two other women, Salvina and Victoria. It also contains quotes from Aspasia, an earlier physician who specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology.


References:

The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-ZMarilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Joy Dorothy Harvey

On Wikipedia:

 

Aspasia the Physician – 1st Century – Greece

Ancient Greece

Aspasia

Not to be confused by the earlier scholar and hetaera of the same name, Aspasia was a physician who worked in obstetrics and gynaecology.

There is nothing recorded about Aspasia’s life outside of a fragment cited by the physician to a Byzantium Emperor. This mentions her contribution to midwifery as she apparently developed a technique for rotating a foetus in a breech presentation.

It is also mentioned that Aspasia promoted preventive medicine for pregnant women, though there is no specific detail.

Ancient_Roman_relief_carving_of_a_midwife_Wellcome_M0003964

These two bare facts about Aspasia portray a very practical woman who sought common sense solutions to common problems faced by women. This differs from many celebrated male physicians of the time who often took a theoretical approach to healthcare.


References:

Women in science: antiquity through the nineteenth century: a biographical dictionary with annotated bibliography – Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie

Women, Science, and Myth: Gender Beliefs from Antiquity to the Present – Sue Vilhauer Rosser

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Ancient Roman relief carving of a midwife Wellcome M0003964” by http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/29/0b/9da1fcb26bad168d8787912e39b5.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/M0003964.html.

Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Commons

 

 

Salpe – 1st Century BCE – Lemnos, Greece

Ancient Greece

Salpe

Salpe was a midwife from the Greek island of Lemnos. Her name and methods are known to us through the writing of historian Pliny.

As well as midwifery, Salpe offered a number of cures and remedies for other ailments including sunburn, stiffness and dog bites. Her main ingredients were saliva and urine which were believed to have natural healing powers.

Greek physician and their patient

Greek physician and their patient

Salpe was probably not a well-educated woman – she probably couldn’t read and had little contact with leading medical professionals of the time. Her brand of medicine was based on a mix of superstition, herbal cures, prayer and sympathetic magic.

As physicians were expensive, the common people of Lemnos relied upon women like Salpe to provide them with healthcare.  Whoever she was, Salpe’s remedies must have been widely known for her to have caught the attention of Pliny.

Some of Salpe’s remedies (do not try these at home!):

  • To cure the bite of a wild dog, wear the flux of the wool of a black ram contained in a silver bracelet.
  • For a numb (stiff) limb, spit into the bosom of the patient, or touch the upper eyelids with salvia
  • To strengthen the eyes, apply urine.
  • To cure sunburn, mix urine and egg white (preferably ostrich) and apply to the skin every two hours.
  • Feed a dog a live frog to stop it from barking.

References:

Woman’s Power, Man’s Game: Essays on Classical Antiquity in Honor of Joy K. King edited by Joy K. King, Mary DeForest

The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the 20th Century – Marilyn Ogilvie, Joy Harvey

Women in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century – Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie

Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic


Image credits:

Medicine aryballos Louvre CA1989-2183 n2” by English: Clinic Painter (name-piece) – Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011).

Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons

 

 

Elephantis – fl. late 1st Century BCE – Greece

Ancient Greece

Content warning: Sex, erotic art, sex work.

Writer, physician, midwife and author of an infamous sex manual…

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Elephantis was a woman with many talents. She was likely a sex worker, and is also noted by Pliny to have been a capable midwife (perhaps a useful skill in her line of work).

Elephantis shared her knowledge, authoring a manual on cosmetics, and another on abortive methods. But she is most notorious for her sex manual.

Her birth name is unknown; it was common for courtesans in classical times to take animal names as pseudonyms for their clients to know them by. It is even possible that there was more than one woman named Elephantis.

None of her works have survived, though they are referenced in other ancient texts. Roman historian Suetonius mentions that the Emperor Tiberius owned a complete set of Elephantis’ works – said to be written as poetry – as part of his extensive ‘erotic library’.

Pompeii-wall_painting

Ancient Roman erotic art fresco from a brothel in Pompeii

A poem in the Priapeia also refers to Elephantis’ sex manual:

“Lalage dedicates a votive offering to Priapus, bringing shameless pictures from the books of Elephantis, and begs him to try and imitate with her the variety of intercourse of the figures in the illustrations.”

There is a further epigram by the Roman poet Martial which reads:

“Such verses as neither the daughters of Didymus know, nor the debauched books of Elephantis, in which are set out new forms of lovemaking.”

Notes:

  • The Priapeia is a collection of ninety-five poems in various meters on subjects pertaining to the phallic god Priapus.
  • “Novae figurae” has been read as “novem figurae” (i.e., “nine forms” of lovemaking, rather than “new forms” of lovemaking), and so some commentators have inferred that Elephantis listed nine different sexual positions.

References:

The Twelve Caesars (Tiberius 43:2)Seutonius

Women in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie

Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Pompeii-wall painting” by ancient artist, User:Okc~commonswiki – Own work photograph.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Puduhepa – fl. c. 1250 BCE – Harpissa, Hittite Empire

Ancient Turkey

A signatory of the world’s first known peace treaty, a priestess, politician, lawyer, judge, midwife and diplomat, Puduhepa ruled for seventy years and is the most influential Queen you’ve never heard of….

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In 1274 BCE, General Hattusili was returning home from the battle of Kadesh. He stopped to rest in the city of Lawazantiya, where he was welcomed by the high priest. He also met the priest’s daughter, Puduhepa, a beautiful priestess. Later that night, Hattusili dreamed of the Goddess Ishtar, who instructed him to marry Puduhepa.

The following day he returned to the temple to request the priestess’ hand in marriage, to which she assented. From that day onwards they were partners in all things. They returned to Harpissa as husband and wife, and within a few years Hattusili rose to the throne with Puduhepa as his queen (Tawananna).

“Puduhepa” by Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg: Klaus-Peter Simonderivative work: Zunkir (talk) – Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Hittite empire (now modern day Turkey) is defined by its regular clashes with the Egyptians and Hattusili was often away at war, leaving Puduhepa to run their Kingdom. Even when Hattusili was present, it was made clear that Puduhepa ruled beside him as his primary counsel.

Queen Puduhepa liked to keep busy. She retained her status as priestess of Ishtar, regularly performing rituals and offering prayers for the health of her husband and the strength of her Kingdom. She gave advice to her husband and regularly involved herself with legal cases, becoming supreme judge of the Kingdom.

While many ancient Queens took up some administrative responsibility when it came to the affairs of their kingdoms, Puduhepa also turned her focus outwards to international relations. She brokered a number of political marriages between Hattusili’s many children and the royal families of Babylon and Egypt. She was instrumental in the drawing up of the world’s first written peace treaty between Egypt and Hattusili and formed a strong diplomatic relationship with Great Royal wife Nefertari,

Hittite version of the peace treaty.

Hittite version of the peace treaty.
“Istanbul – Museo archeol. – Trattato di Qadesh fra ittiti ed egizi (1269 a.C.) – Foto G. Dall’Orto 28-5-2006”. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

who sent her gifts and called her ‘sister’.

‘Speak to my sister Puduhepa, the Great Queen of the Hatti land. I, your sister, (also) be well. May your country be well. Now, I have learned that you, my sister, have written to me asking after my health. You have written to me because of the good friendship and brotherly relationship between your brother, the king of Egypt, The Great and the Storm God will bring about peace, and he will make the brotherly relationship between the Egyptian king, the Great King, and his brother, the Hatti King, the Great King, last forever… See, I have sent you a gift, in order to greet you, my sister… for your neck (a necklace) of pure gold… coloured linen maklalu-material, for one royal dress for the king…’

When her husband died and her son Tudhaliya IV became king, Puduhepa did not withdraw, but continued to use her influence under the (badass) title of Goddess Queen.


References:

Historical Dictionary of the HittitesCharles Burney 

A Day in the Life of PuduhepaJudith Starkson for the Unusual Histories blog

PuduhepaJulia Richardson

The Hittites DocumentaryThe Smithsonian Channel

On Wikipedia:

Peseshet – c.2500 BCE – Sais, Egypt

Ancient Egypt, Egypt

‘I have come from the school of medicine at Heliopolis, and have studied at the woman’s school at Sais, where the divine mothers have taught me how to cure diseases…’

Peseshet

Like her countrywoman and predecessor Merit-Ptah, Peseshet was a woman working in the medical profession. We know of Peseshet from her personal stela found in the tomb of her son, Ahkhethetep, which calls her ‘Lady Overseer of the Female Physicians’.

It is believed that ‘female physician’ means midwife, as there is no Egyptian word for midwifery. During Pesehet’s time there was a medical school at Sais which educated female students of gynecology and obstetrics. It is not a stretch to assume that this is where Peseshet herself worked and taught.


Notes:

Stele/Stela – Funeral slab inscribed with a person’s name.


References:

Hypatia’s Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic

Disease and Medicine in World HistorySheldon J. Watts 

On Wikipedia