Asclepius is the ancient Greek god of medicine, who is the son of Apollo. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts. He was also the personification of the ideal doctor, he was the god of medicine and healing, while also possessing the power to raise people from the dead.
Asclepius was the son of the Olympian god Apollo and the mortal Coronis, and he is considered to be one of the youngest Greek gods in mythology. His wife was the goddess of healing, her name was Epione, and together they had a number of children: Hygea, the goddess of sanitation, cleanliness, and health; Laso, the goddess of recuperation from illness; Aegle, the goddess of glow and good health; Panacea, the goddess of universal remedy.
Adventures and Education
Asclepius was barely able to escape death when he was born: his mother died while giving birth to him, but he was rescued by Apollo who cut him out of his mother’s womb and took him to a centaur – a half-horse and half-human mythical creature – to teach him the study of medicine. The centaur, Chiron, followed Apollo’s directions and Asclepius grew up to have great knowledge about medicine, healing – much greater than that of Apollo or Chiron.
He became so powerful that he was able to heal all humans, including dying humans, and he could even bring them back to life after death.Some legends state that Athena, goddess of wisdom, gave Asclepius the blood of Medusa, and with this blood, he found a way to resurrect people. People loved him and called him a hero – eventually, however, other gods noticed this, and many of them did not approve.
There was a point in his life when Asclepius healed a snake, which in turn taught him the secret of knowledge – remember that snakes were considered to be divine beings that were wise and had the ability to heal. Later, Asclepius would bear a rod that had a snake wrapped around it, which then became associated with healing.
There are versions of mythology that state that when Asclepius was ordered to bring Glaucus back to life, he was trapped in a secret prison. While he sat in his prison pondering what he should do, a snake crept near his staff. Unknowingly, he killed the snake by hitting it again and again with his staff. Later on, another snake would appear with an herb in its mouth and put it on top of the dead snake’s head, which then came back to life. Seeing this, he used that same herb and brought back Glaucus.
Once Asclepius started to bring people back from the dead, for example, Tyndareus, Glaucus, Capaneus, Hymenaeus, and others. Some sources say that he even brought back Hippolytus back from the dead per Artemis’ request and accepted gold for the act.
However, Hades was not happy with this and accused Asclepius of stealing his subjects. This was because fewer and fewer people were dying because Asclepius was healing them, which meant that there were fewer and fewer souls to welcome into the Underworld.
Hades complained to Zeus about this. Zeus was worried that Asclepius would teach others the art of resurrection. So, he decided to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Apollo was very angered by this act and went and killed the Cyclopes that made the thunderbolts for Zeus.
The punishment that was inflicted on Asclepius was meant to show that a mortal man should only reach a certain limit in the natural order of things and that it’s forbidden for him to exceed that natural order. By killing Asclepius with a thunderbolt, Zeus wanted to make sure that the rest of the human population understood that there was a bridgeless chasm between them and the gods.
However, Zeus was considerate enough to realize that Asclepius had offered humanity a great service and decided to turn him into a constellation so that he could live forever in the sky. This constellation is called Ophiuchus, which translates to “The Serpent Holder.”
After Zeus killed him, people started to cult Asclepius as a god because it was believed that, even dead, he had the power to help people heal and release them from pain. They built amazing temples to honor him, called Asclepieion, in many Greek islands and areas, and many people would go there to seek out a cure to their illness. Others used to go to the temples to learn the secrets of medicine. It’s believed that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, studied and started his medical career at the Asclepieion of Kos island.
Asclepieion’s were said to be a sanctuary for the god but also as a healing center that was popular in ancient times. People would go there hoping to be cured, to figure out the right treatment for them, and some would come to spend the night so that the god would come to their dreams and tell them what they needed to do to be cured. People could also go to Asclepieion’s to exercise in the nearby gymnasiums and take baths in the healing water.
Sometimes snakes were involved in the healing practices; this is because snakes were sacred to Asclepius, so non-poisonous snakes were left to roam around in the dormitory. This was so that the snakes would be close to the patients to bring blessings and luck.
With the rise of Christianity, the cult of Asclepius declined. However, there are some sanctuaries that can be found all over Greece. The most famous Asclepieion’s can be found in Kos, Epidaurus, and Asclepius’ birthplace Trikala.
So, who is the Greek god of healing? Asclepius might not have had a huge role in Greek mythology, but his life is still interesting to learn about. He is the god of healing, and because of Asclepius, many medical things were created, including the Hippocratic Oath – which is a promise that new physicians make to Greek gods, including Asclepius, that they will do their best to uphold medical standards.