Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 40: Florence, Part 20

February 1, 2024


Uffizi Gallery

5. Hermes

In the column of September 1, 2023, I wrote about the all-powerful god Zeus mating with the goddess Maia and the birth of their son, Hermes.

In Greek mythology, Hermes is the "messenger" of Zeus and also the god of "thievery."

As an example, let me share the following story:

Zeus’s wife Hera had a priestess named Io, a pure and beautiful maiden.

Given Io's virtues, it was impossible for the heavenly Zeus to overlook her.

Zeus promptly approached Io, and surrounded by golden clouds, they became enamored with each other.

One day, the jealous Hera descended from the heavens.

Xeus panicked and transformed Io into a white cow, attempting to deceive Hera.

However, Hera saw through the ruse, took the cow forcefully from Zeus, and set the giant Argus, with a hundred eyes that never slept, to watch over her.

Witnessing Io's constrained life in her bovine form, Zeus felt compassion.

To at least make the grass Io ate delicious, Zeus caused violets of a beautiful purple color to bloom all around her.

Furthermore, Zeus dispatched Hermes to kill the giant Argus and liberate Io (the cow).

Afterward, Io roamed the world, stung by the gadfly sent by Hera.

Finally, in Egypt, she regained her human form, gave birth to her son Epaphus, and came to be revered as the goddess Isis by the Egyptians.


In ancient Greece, the violet was named "ion" after Io's flower.

In the 19th century, a French chemist discovered iodine.

When heated, iodine produces beautiful purple vapor.

The chemist named it "iodine" by combining "ion" (like a violet) and "eidos" (similar to) because the vapor resembled the flower of a violet.

Iodine is an essential element for synthesizing thyroid hormones, so it is indispensable for humans.

Additionally, iodine is commonly used as a disinfectant.

An alcoholic solution of iodine is known as iodine tincture.

Dissolving iodine and potassium iodide in glycerin produces Lugol's solution, applied to the throat.

The complex of iodine and povidone is called povidone-iodine, well-known as the gargle solution “Isodine Gargle.”