Save a thought for Hygeia: Strike diary 8

Today was our final strike day for the week. It feels as if the tide is turning and we might win this industrial dispute. Our union, however, reminded us that we must not abandon the fight until negotiations have been successful. It has announced 14 further days of strike beyond next week (which is already a week of planned strikes) should negotiations be unsatisfactory. This is not what most of us wanted to hear. We wanted to hear: “you will be back in work next week”. Most of us want to return to teaching and doing research. Still, we must go on.

Today was also International Women’s Day. I have written some thoughts on what I would call the ‘inspirational women approach’  to celebrating International Women’s Day for The Recipes Project. While celebrating inspirational women is important, it should not – in my opinion – be the main focus of the day. The main focus should be to remind people that fights for equal rights are still ongoing everywhere in the world.

On this International Women’s Day, I want to return to the building with which I opened this strike diary: the Queen’s building at Cardiff University. As I mentioned, the entrance porch to that building has statues of Asclepius and Hippocrates, as well as busts of several male luminaries in the field of medicine. What I didn’t know until early this week is that there is another interesting entrance to the building at the back.

The Queen’s building, Cardiff University. Back Entrance.

Above that entrance, we see an inscription in Greek: hygeia. Hygeia was the name of one the daughters of Asclepius, the goddess of health. She is named in the Hippocratic Oath:

I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Health and Panacea and by all the gods as well as goddesses, making them judges [witnesses], to bring the following oath and written covenant to fulfilment, in accordance with my power and my judgement. (Translation: Heinrich von Staden).

Unlike Asclepius, Hygeia does not get her own sculpture at the Queen’s building. She is a disembodied name.

On either side of the inscription to Hygeia are reliefs: a group of young men on the right; a group of women and children on the left. The men carry books, and one also has a vial. They appear to be medical students. The women wear aprons and caps that may indicate that they are nurses. However, two of these also seem to be mothers: they both carry babes in their arms, and one also has her skirts pulled by a small child.

Whether these women are nurses or mothers (the two roles were incompatible at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the sculptures were produced), they are caring figures – and they are separated from the studious young men.

How symbolic that women are relegated to the back entrance of this building! How symbolic that women are depicted as caring figures! Of course, things have changed. But they haven’t changed nearly enough. The fight goes on.


This entry was posted in Ancient History, Art, History of medicine, Wales and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Save a thought for Hygeia: Strike diary 8

  1. hms18152012 says:

    Good luck with the strike and also, …great to read this after following your participation in the FutureLearn course on Ancient Health and well-being in the Classical World. Happy international Women’s Day to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. vbpitman says:

    Hi Laurence. Thank you for these blogs. I fully support your strike action against the further eroding of teachers’ pensions, difficult though striking is. Vicki

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: I swear by Apollo: Strike diary 17 | concoctinghistory

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