Asclepius: God of Medicine in Greek Mythology


     Asclepius is the Greek and Roman God of Medicine and in some versions, he was one of the 15 (or 12) Olympic gods. Check out the fascinating history of this god from Greek Mythology.

Asclepius in Greek Mythology:

     Asclepius in Greek Mythology and Roman mythology, he is the god of medicine and healing.

     There are several versions of his myth, but the most common ones point him as the son of Apollo, a god, and Coronis, a mortal. He was said to have been born by cesarean section after his mother's death, and taken to be raised by the centaur Chiron, who educated him in hunting and in the healing arts. He learned the healing power of herbs and surgery, and acquired such great skill that he could bring the dead back to life, for which Zeus punished him by killing him with lightning.

     His cult spread over a vast region of Europe, across North Africa and the Near East, being honored with numerous temples and shrines, which acted as hospitals. His image remained alive and is a symbol still present in Western culture.

"When we say that Jesus healed the crippled and the paralyzed and those who were sick from birth and that he raised the dead, we are reporting deeds that were identical to those that Asclepius is said to have practiced."

Asclepius Myth:

     The history of Aesculapius is reconstructed through the collection of legends and myths created by Greek paganism. Their religion was polytheistic, with a multitude of divinities and demigods associated with all aspects of human life and with several especially sacred places, such as some rivers and fountains, mountains and forests. This multitude of gods was subordinate to a group of powerful principal deities, most of whom, according to them, lived on Mount Olympus, and these in turn were chaired by Zeus. Among the main gods was Apollo, son of Zeus, god of the sun, light, music and arts, prophecy and healing, patron of the young, of the lecture and conductor of the muses, who was, according to some versions of the myth, Esculapius's father.

     The oldest record of his name is found in Homer's Iliad, and in that quote he was apparently still considered a mortal, described as the ruler of Tricca and also as a doctor who had learned the art of the Chiron centaur and taught it to his two sons, Podalírio and Macaão. Since the Homeric account of the Trojan War is now considered the poetization of a possibly historic event, Aesculapius may have actually existed, living around 1200 B.C., and was later deified. In Greek culture, it was common for famous heroes to be the object of worship after their death.

     Writing in the first century, he explained that because he perfected the medical arts, formerly primitive, he deserved a place among immortals. The origins of its name are obscure. It is possible that it meant "gentle healer", it was also reported that at first he was called Epios, and that after curing Ascles, tyrant of Epidaurus, he was renamed Asclepios. His divine status was not unanimous among the ancients, some regarded him as a god, others as a hero-god or as a demigod. By the 5th century BC, there was already a great deal of folklore created about him, and Píndaro wrote saying that he was the son of Apollo with the mortal Coronis, daughter of Phlegias, the ruler of Thessaly. The place of his birth was disputed by several cities: Lacereia, Tricca and Epidauro.


     In addition to his direct connection with Medicine, Esculápio's image was transformed and magnified, assuming other meanings. The Neoplatonists believed that Aesculapius was the soul of the world, through which Creation was held together and organized with symmetry and balance. Élio Aristides said that he was the guide and ruler of all things, the savior of the universe and the guardian of immortals. Juliano declared that he was the healer of the bodies and, with the help of the Muses, Hermes and Apollo, he was the educator of souls. His figure was syncretically assimilated to that of Imhotep in Egypt, Eshmun in Phenicia, Zeus in Pergamum, and Jupiter in Rome, where he was called Aesculapius Optimus Maximus.


      The medical tradition derived from Aesculapius was assimilated by Hippocrates, considered by many to be the father of Western medicine, who was educated at the sanctuary of Aesculapius in Kos. He himself was a descendant of the Asclepiades, a line of medical priests who claimed to be derived from the progeny of the god himself. Although Hippocratic medicine developed in a more scientific and empirical line, several aspects of its doctrine were based on the religious folklore that surrounded the cult of Asclepius, and gave great attention to dreams as an element of diagnosis.

     After the emergence of Christianity, several sanctuaries of Asclepius were transformed into Christian churches, dedicated to healing saints, but he was one of the longest surviving pagan gods in Christianity, due to his reputation for kindness and compassion. At the time when the Parthenon of Athens was already a Christian church, in the 6th century AD, the adjacent temple of Asclepius was still frequented.

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