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[[Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff[1]|250px]]
Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff[1]

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Asclepius (Template:Pron-en; Greek Template:Polytonic Asklēpiós Template:IPA-el; Latin Aesculapius) is the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Hygiene"), Iaso ("Medicine"), Aceso ("Healing"), Aglæa/Ægle ("Healthy Glow"), and Panacea ("Universal Remedy"). The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today, although sometimes the caduceus, or staff with two snakes, is mistakenly used instead. He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis. He was one of Apollo's sons, sharing with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer").[2] Some historians consider that Asclepius probably was a real person, a very skilled doctor who treated people in Greece in about 1200BC[3]


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 Template:Polytonic '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 (Template:Polytonic for Template:Polytonic, Template:Polytonic for Template:Polytonic) we find Template:Polytonic (a well known variation; Fur. 335 - 339) followed by Template:Polytonic or Template:Polytonic, i.e. a voiced velar (without Template:Polytonic) or a voiceless velar (or an aspirated one: we know that there was no distinction between the three in the substr. language) with a Template:Polytonic. I think that the Template:Polytonic renders an original affricate, which (prob. as Template:Polytonic) was lost before the Template:Polytonic (in Greek the group Template:Polytonic is rare, and certainly before another consonant); Beekes Pre-Greek.
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."[4]

One might add that even though Szemerényi's etymology (Hitt. asula- + piya-) does not account for the velar, it is perhaps inserted spontaneously in Greek due to the fact that the cluster -sl- was uncommon in Greek: So, *Aslāpios would become Asklāpios automatically.




He was the son of Apollo and 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 labour and was laid out on the pyre to be consumed, but his father rescued the child, cutting him from her womb. From this he received the name Asklepios "to cut open".[5] Apollo carried the baby to the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius and instructed him in the art of medicine.[6]

Wives and offspringEdit

Asclepios was married to Epione, with whom he had six daughters: Hygieia, Meditrina (the serpent-bearer),Template:Disambiguation needed Panacea, Aceso, Iaso, and Aglaea,[7][8] and three sons: Machaon, Podaleirios and Telesphoros. He also sired a son, Aratus, with Aristodama. The names of his daughters each rather transparently reflect a certain subset of the overall theme of "good health".[8][9][10][11][12][13][14]


Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt because he raised Hippolytus from the dead and accepted gold for it.[15] Other stories say that Asclepius was killed because after bringing people back from the dead, Hades thought that no more dead spirits would come to the underworld, so he asked his brother Zeus to remove him. This angered Apollo who in turn murdered the cyclops who had made the thunderbolt for Zeus.[16] For this act, Zeus banned Apollo from the night sky[17] and commanded Apollo to serve Admetus, King of Thessaly.[14][18] After Asclepius' death, Zeus placed Asclepius among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus ("the Serpent Holder").[19]

Parallels with ChristianityEdit

Much like Jesus, Asclepius was son of a god (Apollo) and yet had a mortal mother and died a human death, and thus has an aspect of mortality in him. He is said to have given the Greeks the gift of healing, healed the injured, the blind, the ill, and even raised the dead. And much like Doubting Thomas, Asclepius had his own skeptic, Ambroja, who was convinced in the end in Asclepius's miraculous powers.

The archaeologist Nanno Marinatos wrote

"We can compare Asclepius with Christ of course. Prophets of the god tend to be healers, tend to have the ability of miraculous healing. And so Asclepius would fall into that category. And interestingly enough the Greeks viewed him as a son of a God but who had died a death. This means that he's a God and yet he also has an aspect of mortality in him. He's closer to men than most gods would be"[20][21][22]

Sacred places and practicesEdit

Template:Greek myth (other gods) The most famous temple of Asclepius was at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese. Another famous healing temple (or asclepieion) was located on the island of Kos, where Hippocrates, the legendary "father of medicine", may have begun his career. Other asclepieia were situated in Trikala, Gortys (in Arcadia), and Pergamum in Asia.

In honor of Asclepius, snakes were often used in healing rituals and non-venomous snakes were allowed to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. From about 300 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.[23] Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.[24]

The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods ..."[24]

Some later religious movements claimed links to Asclepius. In the 2nd century AD the controversial miracle-worker Alexander claimed that his god Glycon was an incarnation of Asclepius. Justin Martyr, a philosophical defender of Christianity who wrote around 160 AD claimed that the myth of Asclepius foreshadowed rather than served as a source for claims of Jesus's healing powers.[25]

The botanical genus Asclepias (commonly known as milkweed), is named after him, and includes the medicinal plant A. tuberosa or "Pleurisy root".

Asclepius was depicted on the reverse of the Greek 10,000 drachmas banknote of 1995-2001.[26]


  1. Statue of Asclepios of the Este type. Pentelic marble, Roman period copy of ca. 160 AD after a 4th-century BC original. From the temple of Asclepios at Epidaurus (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, inv. 263).
  2. Mitchell-Boyask, p. 141
  4. Greek etymology database
  5. The Asklepios cult
  6. Pindar, Pythian Ode 3. 5 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.)
  7. Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 939 (Inscription from Erythrai) (trans. Campbell) (B.C.)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Suidas s.v. Epione (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.)
  9. Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 29. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.)
  10. Homer, Iliad 4. 193 & 217 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)
  11. Homer, Iliad 11. 518 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)
  12. Homer, Iliad 2. 730 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)
  13. Lycophron, Alexandra 1047 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 71. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.)
  15. Philodemus, On Piety (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV Stesichorus Frag 147 & Cinesias Frag 774) (C7th to 6th B.C.)
  16. Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 121 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)
  17. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 610 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.)
  18. Hyginus, Fabulae 49 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.)
  19. Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 14 Latin Mythography C2nd A.D
  20. "The Greek Gods" Documentary
  23. Sigerist. Chapter 3, Religious medicine: Asclepius and his cult, p. 63ff.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Farnell, Chapter 10, "The Cult of Asklepios" (pp.234-279)
  25. Dialogue of Justin and Trypho (the Jew) (69-70)
  26. Bank of Greece. Drachma Banknotes. 10,000 drachma note (pdf) – Retrieved on 26 July 2010.


  • Farnell, Lewis Richard. Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality, (Oxford Clarendon Press,1921).
  • Grimal, Pierre, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Wiley-Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 9780631201021. "Asclepius" pp. 62–63
  • Hart, Gerald D. MD. Asclepius: The God of Medicine (Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2000)
  • Mitchell-Boyask, Robin, Plague and the Athenian Imagination: Drama, History and the Cult of Asclepius, Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780521873451.
  • Riethmüller, Jürgen W. Asklepios : Heiligtümer und Kulte, Heidelberg, Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte, 2005, ISBN 3-935289-30-8
  • Sigerist, Henry E. A History of Medicine Volume 2: Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine (Oxford University Press 1987), chapter 3.

External linksEdit

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