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God of medicine, healing, rejuvenation and physicians
|Parents||Apollo and Coronis|
|Siblings||half-siblings of Asclepius|
Asclepius (//; Greek: Ἀσκληπιός Asklēpiós [asklɛːpiós]; Latin: Aesculapius) or Hepius was a hero and god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Hygiene", the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa/Ægle (the goddess of the glow of good health), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis and the Egyptian Imhotep. He was one of Apollo's sons, sharing with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer"). The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today. Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius.
The etymology of the name is unknown. In his revised version of Frisk's Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Greek Etymological Dictionary), R.S.P. Beekes gives this summary of the different attempts:
- "H. Grégoire (with R. Goossens and M. Mathieu) in Asklépios, Apollon Smintheus et Rudra 1949 (Mém. Acad. Roy. de Belgique. Cl. d. lettres. 2. sér. 45), explains the name as 'the mole-hero', connecting σκάλοψ, ἀσπάλαξ 'mole' and refers to the resemblance of the Tholos in Epidauros and the building of a mole. (Thus Puhvel, Comp. Mythol. 1987, 135.) But the variants of Asklepios and those of the word for 'mole' do not agree.
- The name is typical for Pre-Greek words; apart from minor variations (β for π, αλ(α) for λα) we find α/αι (a well known variation; Fur. 335–339) followed by -γλαπ- or -σκλαπ-/-σχλαπ/β-, i.e. a voiced velar (without -σ-) or a voiceless velar (or an aspirated one: we know that there was no distinction between the three in the substr. language) with a -σ-. I think that the -σ- renders an original affricate, which (prob. as δ) was lost before the -γ- (in Greek the group -σγ- is rare, and certainly before another consonant).
- Szemerényi's etymology (JHS 94, 1974, 155) from Hitt. assula(a)- 'well-being' and piya- 'give' cannot be correct, as it does not explain the velar."
Asclepius was married to Epione, with whom he had five daughters: Hygieia, Panacea, Aceso, Iaso, and Aglaea, and three sons: Machaon, Podaleirios and Telesphoros. He also sired a son, Aratus, with Aristodama.
He was the son of Apollo and, according to the earliest accounts, a mortal woman named Coronis. His mother was killed for being unfaithful to Apollo and was laid out on a funeral pyre to be consumed, but the unborn child was rescued from her womb. Or, alternatively, his mother died in labor and was laid out on the pyre to be consumed, but Apollo rescued the child, cutting him from Coronis's womb.
Education and adventures
Apollo carried the baby to the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius and instructed him in the art of medicine. It is said that in return for some kindness rendered by Asclepius, a snake licked Asclepius's ears clean and taught him secret knowledge (to the Greeks snakes were sacred beings of wisdom, healing, and resurrection). Asclepius bore a rod wreathed with a snake, which became associated with healing. A species of non-venomous pan-Mediterranean serpent, the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) is named for the god. He was originally called Hepius but received his popular name of Asclepius after he cured Ascles, ruler of Epidaurus who suffered an incurable ailment in his eyes.
Asclepius became so proficient as a healer that he surpassed both Chiron and his father, Apollo. Asclepius was therefore able to evade death and to bring others back to life from the brink of death and beyond. This caused an influx of human beings and Zeus resorted to killing him to maintain balance in the numbers of the human population.
At some point, Asclepius was among those who took part in the Calydonian Boar hunt.
Other stories say that Asclepius was killed because, after bringing people back from the dead like Tyndareus, Hades thought that no more dead spirits would come to the underworld. Because of this, he asked his brother Zeus to stop him. This angered Apollo who in turn killed the Cyclopes who made the thunderbolts for Zeus. For this act, Zeus suspended Apollo from the night sky and commanded Apollo to serve Admetus, King of Thessaly for a year. Once the year had passed, Zeus brought Apollo back to Mount Olympus and revived the Cyclopes that made his thunderbolts. After Asclepius's death, Zeus placed his body among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus ("the Serpent Holder").
Some sources also stated that Asclepius was later resurrected as a god by Zeus to prevent any further feuds with Apollo. It was also claimed that Asclepius was instructed by Zeus to never revive the dead without his approval again.
Sacred places and practices
The most ancient and the most prominent asclepeion (or healing temple) according to the geographer of the 1st century BC, Strabo, was situated in Trikala. One of the most famous temples of Asclepius was at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese, dated to the fourth century BC. Another famous asclepeion was built approximately a century later on the island of Kos, where Hippocrates, the legendary "father of medicine", may have begun his career. Other asclepieia were situated in Gortys (in Arcadia), and Pergamum in Asia.
From the fifth century BC onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the god (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary – the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation. Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners. In honor of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and these snakes — the Aesculapian Snakes — slithered around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. These snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius throughout the classical world.
Some later religious movements claimed links to Asclepius. In the 2nd century AD the controversial miracle-worker Alexander claimed that his god Glycon, a snake with a "head of linen" was an incarnation of Asclepius. The Greek language rhetorician and satirist Lucian produced the work Alexander the False Prophet to denounce the swindler for future generations. He described Alexander as having a character "made up of lying, trickery, perjury, and malice; [it was] facile, audacious, venturesome, diligent in the execution of its schemes, plausible, convincing, masking as good, and wearing an appearance absolutely opposite to its purpose." In Rome, the College of Aesculapius and Hygia was an association (collegium) that served as a burial society and dining club that also participated in Imperial cult.
The botanical genus Asclepias (commonly known as milkweed) is named after him and includes the medicinal plant A. tuberosa or "Pleurisy root".
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