Women and Their Bodies in Classical Greece : The Hippocratic Female

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia


The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of approximately sixty medical treatises that were written by the Hippocratics during the Classical period of Greece. The Hippocratics were a group of practicing physicians and are today considered as one of the first Greek scientists. The treatises in the Corpus are unique and show us what the Hippocratics believed about the human body and how it functioned.

This essay aims to investigate the Hippocratics’ knowledge of the female physiology, their reproductive organs and if there is a connection between the Hippocratics’ knowledge and the society’s view and attitude towards women during the Classical period. To do so I have chosen to mainly use ancient sources as my main material, which consist of selected parts of the Hippocratic Corpus as well as works from Hesiod, Xenophon and Plutarch. Since all the ancient texts are written by men we only get their male perspective and therefore I will be using a feministic perspective in order to weigh against the male-bias in their writings. In order to see if the Hippocratics were influenced by society’s attitude towards women, I need to try to understand the mindset of men during that time and look into how women’s lives were like (those that were born as free citizens) during the Classical period.

By looking at the Hippocratics’ knowledge of the female body in parallel to the information about women’s lives during Classical Greece, there is a clear connection between the two. They are complementary and seem to have been used to continue to normalize and at the same time perpetuate the idea that women were second class citizens and were inherently weaker than men. It seems like the Hippocratics’ knowledge of the female body was used as an encouragement to women to pursue their destined roles; to get married as soon as possible and produce children. Also, in the Hippocratic Corpus, women and their bodies are depicted in a misogynistic way where the Hippocratics are, without a doubt, influenced by the society’s attitude towards women in their writings. 

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