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Bowl of Hygeia Award | Iowa Pharmacy Association

Zbigniew Bela That the mythical Hygieia and her bowl are universally recognised symbols of pharmacy is self-evident. Examples abound in academic pharmacy, societies of pharmacists and pharmacy history, journals of pharmacy, diplomas and awards, and pharmaceutical companies, which have adopted her. So who was Hygieia and how did she come to represent pharmacy? At that time pharmacy was understood as purely the study of remedies, their identification and preparation — health, conditioned by proper hygiene, preventive care and healthy lifestyle, was a separate discipline.

Hygieia is frequently said to have been the daughter of Asclepius, the god of medicine.

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That is what we find in Pausanias I, Even in the fourth century BC hymn which carefully enumerates the members of the family, Hygieia is set apart from the other daughters. It is worth noting that Hygieia and Asclepius do share the same attribute — the serpent — and that ancient artists tended to create representations of Hygieia accompanied by Asclepius or on her own. The other characters that comprise his retinue are indeed members of his family, which includes his consort Epione soothing and numerous children.

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All these personifications represent the various aspects of the art of healing, which is embodied by Asclepius in its entirety. Hygieia is typically portrayed sitting or standing, wearing a long chiton and sandals, with a serpent in one hand and a bowl in the other. If she is accompanied by Asclepius, sometimes the serpent belongs to her, sometimes to him.


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Other, less typical portraits include a relief from the Graaf Frederik de Thoms collection in the Netherlands, which shows Hygieia pouring Asclepius some wine, or the relief from the asklepieion healing temple of Piraeus, Greece, in which she is standing behind the god, who is busy treating a woman. The museum has a few of pots of the ointment in its collection. The white earthenware pot lids feature an illustration of a Hygieia and a child, dressed in togas. Hygieia is holding a bowl, with the serpent of Epidaurus coiled around it. The Romans imported Hygieia under the name Valetudo health.

Throughout the Middle Ages until the 15th or the 16th century, no representations of Hygieia are found, neither is she mentioned in belles-lettres. Her disappearance was due to Christianity, which had succeeded in purging the consciousness of the peoples of Europe of ancient pagan symbols for centuries to come.

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As part of this ideological struggle, some names of medicinal plants which referred to pagan divinities were replaced with analogous Christian names. However, in the 17th century, when the Roman Catholic church had lost a considerable part of its influence to the Protestant Church, representations of pagan Hygieia as the goddess of health reappeared, thanks to among others the prominent painter Rubens.

In short, between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Hygieia was in vogue.

Statue of Hygeia

Of course, the fashion did not leave the realms of medicine and pharmacy unaffected. A relief representation of Hygieia is found on a large silver medal, issued in , on the occasion of the refoundation of the Vienna School of Surgeons and on a silver plaque issued on the occasion of the 13th International Congress of Medicine, which took place in Paris in Prominent examples include the famous Hygieia by Klimt, reliefs by Thorvaldsen, and the drawing by Piotr Stachiewicz, on display in the Jagiellonian University Museum of Pharmacy in Poland.

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