Myth Man's Greek Mythology

Hygeia was the Greek goddess of Good Health, Cleanliness and Hygiene. She was arguably the most beloved deity of the mortals, who held good health in the highest regard. She was the daughter of Epione, the goddess of the Soothing of Pain, and the revered Medicine god named Asclepius, a son of Apollo.

Hygeia was associated with the prevention of sickness, while her father Asclepius was more directly associated with healing.

Hygeia (Health) was sister to Panacea (Cure-All), Iaso (Recuperation from Illness), Aceso (the Healing Process) and Aegle (Radiant Good Health). Collectively they were called the Asclepiades.

Her three brothers were Machaon and Podaileirios, who were both healers, and Telesphoros, god or personification of recuperation from illness or injury.

Often represented as a woman holding a large serpent in her arms, Hygeia was an attendant of Asclepius, as well as a companion of the goddess of Love, Aphrodite. The opposite of Hygeia were the Nosoi (Spirits of Disease).

Hygeia was usually worshiped in the same temples as her father, with their most famous sanctuary located at Argos. Works of art depict her as a virgin wearing a long robe, with a calm, mild and kind expression, befitting a healer. She was usually shown with her sisters and father, either standing or sitting.

The cult of Asclepius was wide spread in Greece and elsewhere, but the cult of Hygeia as an independent goddess did not begin to spread widely until the devastating Plague of Athens (430-427 BCE) and the Plague of Rome (293 BCE), who called her Salus.

The oracle at Delphi consequently recognized her preventive, healing and recuperative medical abilities, spreading her worship far and wide.

Her symbol is the large snake, which she is feeding from a bowl. The snake is a symbol of resurrection, and the Bowl of Hygeia is said to represent renewal and healing - much like the snake sheds off its filthy skin, so does the body rid itself of diseases and is restored to full health.

The Bowl of Hygeia since at least 1796 has been used as a symbol of the pharmacy profession, and has been adopted by a number of pharmaceutical associations around the world. It is a common symbol on signs outside of pharmacies in Europe.

Even though originally Hygeia was identified as the goddess of physical health, she is sometimes conceived as the giver or patron of mental health as well.

Her name is the source for the word "hygiene".

The Hippocratic Oath, named after the 5th to 4th Century BCE physician Hippocrates, is an oath recited by physicians:

"I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius, and Hygeia, and Panacea, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation..."




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