The Mother of Socrates: Priestess, Pharmacist, Obstetrician by Stuart Dean


I never knew anything about Socrates’ mother before, never even heard of her. Fascinating.

ParthenonBecause the dates for the life of Socrates are certain, it is safe to conclude his mother, Phaenarete, was born about 500 BCE.  She seems to have lived well past menopause and thus was certainly alive to see the start of construction of the Parthenon (447 BCE) and probably its completion (432 BCE).  As was traditional for many Greek mothers, after menopause she became a priestess, pharmacist and obstetrician.

The relevance of the chronology for Phaenarete requires some context to appreciate.  Writing had yet to be widely adopted during her life (the alphabet was not standardized until about 400 BCE).  Literary evidence in particular for the practice of medicine before and during her life is scarce. Although Hippocrates was a contemporary of her son, nothing survives of medical writings from antiquity that can confidently be attributed to him.  Parmenides and Empedocles (contemporaries of Phaenarete) appear to have been medical practitioners…

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