Word of the Week: Panacea

Panacea is a noun and is defined as a remedy for all ills or difficulties. Panacea is one of the many words in the English language that has its roots in Greek mythology. In this case, the word panacea derives from the Greek goddess of universal remedy Panacea. Panacea was one of the sisters of Hygieia, the god of cleanliness, and one of the daughters of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.

During the Middle Ages, many alchemists tried to concoct potions such as the “elixir of life” (which would give eternal life), the “philosopher’s stone” (which would turn ordinary metals into gold), and the “panacea” (which would be a remedy for all illnesses) but were unsuccessful. This failure influenced the definition of the word panacea and today, panacea is commonly used to criticize the very idea of a total solution. 

Additionally, since plants have been used for remedies for thousands of years many plants have been referred to as a panacea. For example, the Latin genus name for ginseng is Panax, which shares the same origin as panacea, since it has been widely used as a cure-all in traditional Chinese medicine. 

Even the original Hippocratic Oath, which is an oath taken by new physicians, honored Panacea and her family in the first line: “I swear by Apollo Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”

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Sources
“Panacea.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster
Panacea

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