Sex and gender: the Hippocratic case of Phaethousa and her beard

King, Helen (2013). Sex and gender: the Hippocratic case of Phaethousa and her beard. EuGeStA: Journal on Gender Studies in Antiquity, 3 pp. 124–142.



The paper investigates the implications, for a ‘one-sex’ model of the body, of the Hippocratic case history in which a woman ceases to menstruate and then grows a beard after her husband leaves. This story challenges a model of sexual difference based solely on the gonads, drawing attention to other visible or audible markers, and to the hierarchical relationships between them. The long history of reception of this story, telling it in a variety of contexts ranging from ‘sex change’ stories to lovesickness to accounts of prolapse, and setting it beside other stories from outside the ancient medical tradition, shows both its flexibility and the importance of having a Hippocratic seal of authority. Two gendered Greek terms in the story, oikouros and epitokos, emphasise Phaethousa’s femininity and demonstrate that, far from being intermediate between two sexes, she remains female throughout her illness.

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