display | more...

Ασχληπιος

In Latin Aesculapius, the god of medicine, he was the son of Apollo, but the stories about his birth differ considerably: generally, and especially in the account given by Pindar, it is said that Apollo loved Coronis, the daughter of the Thessalian king Phlegyas and fathered a son, but before the child was born, Coronis had yielded her love to a mortal, Ischys, the son of Elatus. Apollo, warned of her misdeed by a careless crow, or by his gift of divination, killed the faithless girl and just as her body was lying on the pyre and was on the point of being burnt, Apollo tore the child, still alive, from her womb and that is how Asclepius was born. According to another tradition, intended to explain why Asclepius was the great god of Epidaurus in the Peloponnese, Phlegyas who was a thief on a grand scale, came to the country to discover the wealth it contained and how he could appropriate it. His daughter accompanied him and during their travels was seduced by Apollo, and secretly gave birth to a son in Epidaurus, at the foot of Mount Myrtion. There she had abandoned him but a she-goat came to suckle the infant and a dog protected him. The shepherd Aresthanas who owned both animals found the child and was astounded by the brilliant light in which he was bathed. He knew full well that he was confronted by a mystery and did not dare to pick up the infant, who followed his divine destiny alone. Another version of the story makes Arsinoe, the daughter of Leucippus, the child's mother. This is the Messenian tradition which attempted to reconcile itself with the others by asserting that the child was Arsinoe's, but that he had been brought up by Coronis.

Asclepius was entrusted by his father to the Centaur Chiron, who taught him medicine and soon Asclepius developed exceptional skill in the art. He even discovered how to revive the dead. He was given the blood which had flowed in the Gorgon's veins by Athena, and while the blood from its left side spread a fatal poison, that from the right was beneficial, and Asclepius knew how to use it to restore the dead to life. By this method he revived many people, including Capaneus, Lycurgus (probably during the war against Thebes, where two characters of that name are recorded as victims), Glaucus, the son of Minos, and Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, the most frequently mentioned of all (see Phaedra). Zeus, confronted by resurrections on this scale feared that Asclepius might upset the natural order of things and struck him with a thunderbolt. To avenge him Apollo killed the Cyclopes. After his death Asclepius was changed into a constellation and became the plant serpentaria. Several late pieces of so-called evidence show Asclepius taking part in the Calydonian hunt and the Argonauts' expedition, but generally speaking he stands outside the legendary cycles.

He is said to have had two children, Podalirius and Machaon, whose names are found as early as the Iliad. The later forms of the legend give him a wife, Epione, and five daughters, Aceso, Iase, Panacea, Aglaea and Hygieia. The cult of Asclepius, which is vouched for at Tricea in Thessaly (where it may have originated) was centered on Epidaurus in the Peloponnese, where what can properly be called a school of medicine flourished. This was based primarily on magical practices but also laid the foundations for a more scientific form of medicine. This art was practiced by the Asclepiades or descendants of Asclepius, the best known of these being Hippocrates. The usual symbols of Asclepius were snakes twined round a staff, together with pine-cones, crowns of laurel and sometimes a nanny-goat or a dog.

{E2 DICTIONARY OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY}

Table of Sources:
- Homeric Hymn to Asclepius
- Pind. Pyth. 3, with schol. on 14; 96
- Hesiod Fragments 50; 51; 53; 58; 60 M-W
- Apollod. Bibl. 3, 10, 3ff.
- Diod. Sic. 4, 71; 5, 74
- Ovid, Met. 2, 535ff.
- Serv. on Virgil, Aen. 6, 617; 7, 761; 11, 259
- Hyg. Fab. 202; Astron. 2, 40
- Paus. 2, 26, 3ff.; 4, 3, 2; 4, 31, 12
- Hymn to Asclepius, Epidaurian inscription in Collitz/Bechtel, Samml. der gr. dial. Inschr. III, p. 162, no. 3342
- Cic. De Nat. Deor. 3, 22, 57
- Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 4, 526ff.
- Pseudo-Lact. Plac. on Euripides, Alc. 1
- Ovid, Fast. 5, 735ff.
- Arnobius, Adv. Nat. 1, 30; 36; 41; 4, 15