1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hygieia

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HYGIEIA, in Greek mythology, the goddess of health. It seems probable that she was originally an abstraction, subsequently personified, rather than an independent divinity of very ancient date. The question of the original home of her worship has been much discussed. The oldest traces of it, so far as is known at present, are to be found at Titane in the territory of Sicyon, where she was worshipped together with Asclepius, to whom she appears completely assimilated, not an independent personality. Her cult was not introduced at Epidaurus till a late date, and therefore, when in 420 b.c. the worship of Asclepius was introduced at Athens coupled with that of Hygieia, it is not to be inferred that she accompanied him from Epidaurus, or that she is a Peloponnesian importation at all. It is most probable that she was invented at the time of the introduction of Asclepius, after the sufferings caused by the plague had directed special attention to sanitary matters. The already existing worship of Athena Hygieia had nothing to do with Hygieia the goddess of health, but merely denoted the recognition of the power of healing as one of the attributes of Athena, which gradually became crystallized into a concrete personality. At first no special relationship existed between Asclepius and Hygieia, but gradually she came to be regarded as his daughter, the place of his wife being already secured by Epione. Later Orphic hymns, however, and Herodas iv. 1-9, make her the wife of Asclepius. The cult of Hygieia then spread concurrently with that of Asclepius, and was introduced at Rome from Epidaurus in 293, by which time she may have been admitted (which was not the case before) into the Epidaurian family of the god. Her proper name as a Romanized Greek importation was Valetudo, but she was gradually identified with Salus, an older genuine Italian divinity, to whom a temple had already been erected in 302. While in classical times Asclepius and Hygieia are simply the god and goddess of health, in the declining years of paganism they are protecting divinities generally, who preserve mankind not only from sickness but from all dangers on land and sea. In works of art Hygieia is represented, together with Asclepius, as a maiden of benevolent appearance, wearing the chiton and giving food or drink to a serpent out of a dish.

See[edit]

  • the article by H. Lechat in Daremberg and Salio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités, with full references to authorities and
  • E. Thrämer in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie, with a special section on the modern theories of Hygieia.