Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote that they disagreed on issues of fertility, menstruation, abortifacient, and even the use of medicinal plants such as myrtle and cabbage root. From Pliny we also know that Lais treated rabies and fevers with a silver bracelet that contained wool from a black ram. He questioned her effectiveness as a physician.
Further, Elephantis’s name is curious, as noted by Pliny. It was quite common at the time for courtesans (i.e., prostitutes to the upper class) to take on animal names. Pliny inferred in his writings that both Elephantis and Lais were courtesans. Apparently, Lais's name was also common among prostitutes.
Scholars point out that the social standing of female physicians varied depending on whether they were freeborn women, freed women, or indeed slaves. Training as a physician mostly came in the form of an apprenticeship. A free women would have fared the best with a respected physician father or spouse. But there are some records where former female slaves had become physicians, as with Restituta (1st Century AD, Rome), who had been trained by her previous owner, Claudius Alcimus, physician to Caesar.
Where Lais and Elephantis fit on this social ladder could certainly be debated, as well as their service being a godsend to female prostitutes seeking contraception and healthcare. Silphium would have been the herb of choice at the time. From the 7th century BC on, it was used as a contraceptive and also to induce abortion. As it could only be found near the coastal city of Cyrene (today Libya), the price of silphium grew to "more than its weight in silver" by First Century BC.
|Silver coin from Cyrene depicting a stalk of silphium|
(commonly used as a contraceptive and to induce abortion in ancient Greece)
Women and Weasels: Mythologies of Birth in Ancient Greece and Rome By Maurizio Bettini, 2013, Univ. of Chicago Press, p. 189; https://graecomuse.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/irving_mhj_40-2-1.pdf; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_birth_control
Parker, Holt N. 1997. "Women Doctors in Greece Rome, and the Byzantine Empire." Women Physicians and Healers. Lillian R. Furst, ed. Univ. of Kentucky Press 131-150.