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Asclepius’ Healing Powers

March 27, 2013

There are many testimonies of Asclepius’ healing power one of which is as follows;

‘Euhippus had had for six years the point of a spear in his jaw. As he was sleeping in the Temple the god extracted the spearhead and gave it him into his hands. When day came Euhippus departed cured, and he held the spearhead in his hands.’

Asclepius was credited with the act as the ‘miracle’ occurred within his sanctuary at Epidaurus but is there a rational way of assessing this? In considering this example of miracle healing I believe that there are two possibilities; the first being the most likely.

The first is that the priests of the sanctuary were skilled enough to undertake some form of surgery. The suppliants who attended the sanctuary were required to go through the incubation process. Incubation involved the suppliant sleeping within the sanctuary; the god would come to them in the dream and provide a cure. It is possible that during this incubation period, under some form of anaesthesia, that the temple priests performed the extraction of the spearhead.

The second possibility is that the spearhead was removed through the natural process of the body. The human body continually fights the intrusion of foreign objects (just think of a splinter being naturally forced out). This happens over the course of time and in some instances can take years.

Such an account is today referred to as a ‘miracle’ because it is attributed to the will of a god. However, there would have been no such distinction in ancient Greece. If a patient could not afford a doctors service or the illness was considered incurable they could look to the god for assistance. Even if it was nature or the priests who removed the spearhead given the beliefs of the time, and that it happened within the sanctuary, any cure that was successful would have been credited as work of the god. There would have been no attempt to apply any logical assessment.

The cases of miracle healing are open to interpretation and as such I welcome the views of others as my considerations may not be the only possible conclusions.


From → Ancient Medicine

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