July 25, 2020
If there is one thing this year will teach us all (and there are many, many harsh learnings in 2020), then it is hygiene. So, a few of us at DYT got to thinking about the source word of it.
You know how it is. You got to bed at 11 because there is an early Zoom meeting and you need to be up on time. And in a blink, it is 3 am, and you’ve spent 4 hours down the internet rabbit hole.
Well, that’s what happened to us, and we found that the root is Hygieia.
Who is Hygieia?
A Greek Goddess. (Though in the Roman world she is known as Valetudo)
Her power lies in preventing sickness and the continuation of good health.
She is one of the Asclepiadae, i.e., daughter of the God of Medicine, according to some experts. A few believe she was the wife of the God of Medicine.
Mostly, she is known through the original version of the Oath of Hippocrates.
“I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asklepios, Hygieia, and Panakeia, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath, and agreement.”
Why is she in the oath? Because she represents cleanliness and sanitation to prevent illnesses. (Getting how we’ve all been worshipping her this year?)
Hygieia: Inspiring Through the Ages
Heard the phrase “prevention is better than cure?”
That comes from Hygieia too. In fact, Greek doctors who practised this approach were called Hygiean.
The symbol in the image seems familiar? Or maybe you’ve seen a snake coiling around just one bowl? That’s Hygieia’s bowl. It has been used over the years in Europe and surrounding areas as a symbol of pharmacy.
See the woman flanked by a snake drinking out of a chalice? That’s Hygieia again. This time she is on the lid of Holloway’s Ointment, which was created by Thomas Holloway way back in 1837!
If you feel the 1800’s is looooong back, get ready to really feel the age of civilization. The oldest surviving depiction of Goddess Hygieia and her symbol is a coin from 1796. It was minted for the Parisian Pharmaceutical Society.
The Modern Era of Hygieia
Somewhere down the winding lane of time, Hygieia lost its lure. The only place you still see her is in the symbols of medical shops. But 2020, brought her back with a bang.
Given the number of sanitizers, sprays, soaps, and whatnot advertised in the spirit of hygiene, it is safe to say that the entire world is worshipping at Hygieia’s altar right now. Inadvertent, though it may be.
It is quite possible that by the time we are ready to bid farewell to this year, Hygieia becomes the favourite deity of us all. With all the hand washing, and sanitising surfaces, our theory is not that far-fetched.
P.S: If any of you readers find another god or goddess of cleanliness or good health, do a good deed. Drop their names in the comments. At this juncture of the COVID crisis, we are ready to pray to any divine symbol!