Metrodora: Ancient Greek Physician and Rebel

Metrodora was an ancient Greek physician, possibly of Egyptian origin, that practiced medicine and wrote the oldest known medical text by a woman named “On the Diseases and Cures of Women”. She lived sometime between 200-400 CE and her focus lied in female medicine, not so surprising perhaps, since in ancient Greece women and slaves were not allowed to practice medicine as it was considered a science gifted by the gods. Midwifes however, were common and women did assist with childbirth and some aspects of gynecology. Metrodora was unique in that she covered all areas of medicine related to women in her texts and practices, and she did this in a time when this wasn’t really allowed.

Metrodora was interested in pathology and diagnosing diseases. She was an experienced gynecologist and did a lot for women’s’ medicine in her time. She created therapies for treating menorrhagia (heavy bleeding during menstruation) & metrorrhagia (abnormal bleeding from the uterus), used intravaginal and intraurethral rowels to cure local infections and could perform embryotomies to save a pregnant patient. She formed a classification system for vaginal discharge and was one of the first to suggest surgical treatment for breast-and uterine cancer, following the Hippocratic dogma to treat a disease that can’t be cured with scalpel and a flat iron. Metrodora was evidently very influenced by Hippocrates and cited him directly several times in her texts.

Her book was in two volumes and 63 chapters, it doesn’t cover obstetrics (unusually for a woman in medicine) and surgery, but it is unknown if that is due to a part being missing. It is also the first known medical text to have an alphabetical heading for easy reference, which medical encyclopedias still use today. Her work was referenced by other physician writers and was translated to Latin sometime between the third to fifth century. The oldest known copy can be found in the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy.  To me Metrodora stands as an example that women with passion break barriers and do amazing things, and that women always have done so.


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