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L'epidemiologia per la sanità pubblica
Istituto Superiore di Sanità
Epidemiologia per la sanità pubblica - ISS

The Goddess Hygeia (Igea)

In Greek mythology, Hygeia was the daughter of Asclepius and Epione and was venerated as the goddess of health. She was represented both as a young woman in the act of quenching the thirst of a snake and as a seated figure with her left hand resting on a staff and her right hand offering a patera to a snake which, approaching her, rises from an altar placed in front of the goddess.


The cult of Hygeia was associated with that of her father and of Panacea, Hygeia's half-sister. In addition to being the goddess of health (or of recovery in general), she was the divinity of all things clean. Unlike her father, who was directly and solely associated with the cure of illnesses, Hygeia was instead associated with the prevention of illness and the maintaining of health.


What does the snake represent? Ancient cultures attributed a number of characteristics to the snake, including intelligence. This reptile made an impression on various cultures for its mysterious life underground, its capacity to secrete deadly poison, its great speed, and its ability to hypnotise its prey. The snake has always been linked to the world of pharmacology, in that for many illnesses small doses of its poison often represented the only remedy.