Hygeia is the Greco-Roman goddess of health and in Greek Hygeia literally means health. Her statue was found in Jbeil. It was part of a Nympheum constructed on the northern roman road leading into Jbeil. Hygeia is wearing a long robe that touches the ground.
A snake is enrolled around Hygeia’s neck, and she is feeding it poison from a cup she holds in her hand. The snake allows the identification of the goddess for it symbolizes medicine. Thus the modern day symbol of doctors: the snake. The Nympheum was dedicated to the nymphs, goddesses of fountains, and t he statue was placed there since the cult of Hygeia was related to water. This statue is a testimony of the craftsmanship of roman artists who were able to sculpt the movements and folds of Hygeia’s robe in marble!
In July 16th 551, a massive earthquake devastated the Lebanese coast and destroyed its cities. The marble statue fell to the ground and the head was severed from the body. The statue remained in that state for centuries, until the archaeologists discovered it. The head and body were joined back and the statue placed on a pedestal after the decision to display it in the National museum was taken.
The goddess Hygeia is the daughter of Asclepius, the Greco-roman god of medicine. She is the goddess of both physical and mental health thus the famous saying “a sound mind in a healthy body”. Prayers addressed to her would go on saying: “Hygeia, gracious goddess whose noble heart, give us strength and healing…” Modern medicine is still inspired from the Greek mythology. The snake is the symbol of the doctors healing powers. And on their graduation day, they mention Hygeia in the famous Hippocratic Oath: “I swear by Apollo the physician, and Asclepius and Hygeia… ”