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Asclepius

May 23, 2013

Asclepius the God of health and healing is described by Pindar (Pythian 3) as ‘the gentle hero, craftsman in remedies for the limbs of men tormented by disease.’ Asclepius having been born a mortal and deified later appears to have been seen as more human than the other wrathful gods. Both Pindar (Pythian 3) and Diodorus Siculus (Library of History 4.71) recall that Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis. Pindar (Pythian 3) details how Coronis incurred the wrath of Apollo for consenting to ‘another union though she had lain before with Apollo and bore the god’s pure seed within her.’ Artemis at Apollo’s request killed Coronis but Apollo could not endure seeing the unborn Asclepius die and rescued him from the funeral pyre giving him into the care of Chiron the centaur.

Diordorus (Library of History 4.71) also recounts that Asclepius was so adept at healing that he cured those thought to be dying and even brought people back from the dead. Hades observed that his dominion was threatened and pleaded to Zeus to take action. Zeus ‘in indignation, slew Asclepius with his thunderbolt’ (Diordorus Library of History 4.71). Apollo took revenge for Asclepius’ murder and in order to avoid any further disputes Zeus resurrected Asclepius as a god.

The cult of Asclepius developed late in relation to the other gods. One of the earliest pieces of evidence of worship is a bronze patera from Epidaurus dedicated to Asclepius (LiDonici, 1995:7). However, there is evidence to suggest that the worship of Asclepius began in Trikka (Strabo Geography 14.1.39).

There are many accounts of Asclepius’ healing recorded in inscriptions but particularly The Epidaurian Miracle Inscriptions (Iamata) which detail seventy cases of patients and how they were healed. Within several accounts the process of incubation (sleeping within the precinct) is recalled, during which the god would visit the patient and administer a cure.

Rational medical practices had started developing around the time of the the cults rise to dominance  It might be thought that this would have resulted in a decline in seeking religious cures but it is apparent that people sought out Ascelpius’ help. It is likely though that people were merely adopting a multiple approach to healing out of a desire to be cured (Oberhelman, 1993:155). Asclepius provided hope for a cure as demonstrated by inscriptions such as the Iamata. These promoted the successes of the sanctuary for suppliants to read and share the experiences with others.

Bibliography

Primary

Diodorus Siculus The Library of History Translated by C. H. Oldfather Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1933. LacusCurtius http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/ [Accessed: 23 May 2013]

Pindar Pythian Three – Pindar’s Victory Odes Translated by Frank J. Nisetich Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. The Epidauria http://216.71.135.198/HW/pindar.html [Accessed: 23 May 2013]

Strabo GeographyThe Geography of Strabo Translated by Jones, H.L. Cambridge: HarvardUniversity Press, 1924. Perseus Digital Library http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0198 [Accessed: 23 May 2013]

Secondary

LiDonici, R. The Epidaurian Miracle Inscription. Text, translation and commentaryAtlanta: Scholar Press, 1995.

Oberhelman, S. ‘Dreams in Graeco-Roman medicine’, ANRW II.37.1, 121-56, 1993.

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