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Statue of Asclepius with his symbol, the serpent-entwined staff
Statue of Asclepius with his symbol, the serpent-entwined staff
God of medicine, healing, rejuvenation and physicians
Symbol A serpent-entwined staff
Consort Epione
Parents Apollo and Coronis
Children Hygieia, Iaso, Aceso, Aglaea, Meditrina, and Panacea
Roman equivalent Aesculapius

Asclepius (pronounced /æsˈkliːpiəs/, Greek Ἀσκληπιός pronounced /asˈklɛːpiːʉs/, transliterated Asklēpiós; 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 ("Health"), 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 servants.



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 σκάλοψ, ἀσπάλαξ '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 (β for π, αλ(α) for λα) we find α/αι (a well known variation; Fur. 335 - 339) followed by -γλαπ- or -σκλαπ-/-σχλαπ/β-, i.e. a voiced velar (without -σ-) or a voiceless velar (or an aspirated one: we know that there was no distinction between the three in the substr. language) with a -σ-. I think that the -σ- renders an original affricate, which (prob. as δ) was lost before the -γ- (in Greek the group -σγ- 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."[1]

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. From this he received the name Asklepios "to cut open".[2] Apollo carried the baby to the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius and instructed him in the art of medicine.[3]

Wives and offspring

Asclepios was married to Epione, with whom he had six daughters: Hygieia, Meditrina (the serpent-bearer), Panacea, Aceso, Iaso, and Aglaea[4][5], 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".[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]


Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt because he raised Hippolytus from the dead and accepted gold for it.[12] 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 made the thunderbolt for Zeus.[13] For this act, Zeus banned Apollo from the night sky[14] and commanded Apollo to serve Admetus, King of Thessaly.[11][15] After Asclepius' death, Zeus placed Asclepius among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus ("the Serpent Holder").[16]

Sacred places and practices

Greek deities
Primordial deities
Titans and Olympians
Aquatic deities
Chthonic deities
Personified concepts
Other deities

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.[17] Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.[18]

The original, ancient Hippocratic Oath begins with the invocation "I swear | by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods ..." Scholars have written that this oath may not have been written by Hippocrates, but by or with others in his school, or followers of Pythagoras.[18]

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[19].

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.[20]

Further reading

  • Farnell, Lewis Richard. Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality, (Oxford Clarendon Press,1921).
  • Hart, Gerald D. MD. Asclepius: The God of Medicine (Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2000)
  • Sigerist, Henry E. A History of Medicine Volume 2: Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine (Oxford University Press 1987), chapter 3.
  • Asklepios cult.

External links


  1. ^ Greek etymology database
  2. ^ The Asklepios cult
  3. ^ Pindar, Pythian Ode 3. 5 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.)
  4. ^ Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 939 (Inscription from Erythrai) (trans. Campbell) (B.C.)
  5. ^ a b Suidas s.v. Epione (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.)
  6. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 29. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.)
  7. ^ Homer, Iliad 4. 193 & 217 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)
  8. ^ Homer, Iliad 11. 518 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)
  9. ^ Homer, Iliad 2. 730 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.)
  10. ^ Lycophron, Alexandra 1047 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.)
  11. ^ a b Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 71. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.)
  12. ^ Philodemus, On Piety (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV Stesichorus Frag 147 & Cinesias Frag 774) (C7th to 6th B.C.)
  13. ^ Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 121 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)
  14. ^ Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 610 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.)
  15. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 49 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.)
  16. ^ Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 14 Latin Mythography C2nd A.D
  17. ^ Sigerist. Chapter 3, Religious medicine: Asclepius and his cult", p63ff.
  18. ^ a b Farnell, Chapter 10, "The Cult of Asklepios" (pp.234-279)
  19. ^ [1]Dialogue of Justin and Trypho (the Jew) (69-70)
  20. ^ Bank of Greece. Drachma Banknotes & Coins: 10,000 drachmas. – Retrieved on 27 March 2009.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

AESCULAPIUS (Gr. 'AuKAinrcos), the legendary Greek god of medicine, the son of Apollo and the nymph Coronis. Tricca in Thessaly and Epidaurus in Argolis disputed the honour of his birthplace, but an oracle declared in favour of Epidaurus. He was educated by the centaur Cheiron, who taught him the art of healing and hunting. His skill in curing disease and restoring the dead to life aroused the anger of Zeus, who, being afraid that he might render all men immortal, slew him with a thunderbolt (Apollodorus iii. 10; Pindar, Phthia, 3; Diod. Sic. iv. 71). Homer mentions him as a skilful physician, whose sons, Machaon and Podalirius, are the physicians in the Greek camp before Troy (Iliad, ii. 731). Temples were erected to Aesculapius in many parts of Greece, near healing springs or on high mountains. The practice of sleeping (incubatio) in these sanctuaries was very common, it being supposed that the god effected cures or prescribed remedies to the sick in dreams. All who were healed offered sacrifice - especially a cock - and hung up votive tablets, on which were recorded their names, their diseases and the manner in which they had been cured. Many of these votive tablets have been discovered in the course of excavations at Epidaurus. Here was the god's most famous shrine, and games were celebrated in his honour every five years, accompanied by solemn processions. Herodas (Mimes, 4) gives a description of one of his temples, and of the offerings made to him. His worship was introduced into Rome by order of the Sibylline books (293 B.C.), to avert a pestilence. The god was fetched from Epidaurus in the form of a snake and a temple assigned him on the island in the Tiber (Livy x. 47; Ovid, Metam. xv. 622). Aesculapius was a favourite subject of ancient artists. He is commonly represented standing, dressed in a long cloak, with bare breast; his usual attribute is a club-like staff with a serpent (the symbol of renovation) coiled round it. He is often accompanied by Telesphorus, the boy genius of healing, and his daughter Hygieia, the goddess of health. Votive reliefs representing such groups have been found near the temple of Aesculapius at Athens. The British Museum possesses a beautiful head of Aesculapius (or possibly Zeus) from Melos, and the Louvre a magnificent statue.

Authorities.-L. Dyer, The Gods in Greece (1891); Jane E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903); R. Caton, Temples and Ritual of A. at Epidaurus and Athens (1900); articles in Pauly-Wissowa's Real-Encyclopadie, Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie; T. Panofka, Asklepios and die Asklepiaden (1846); Alice Walton, "The Cult of Asklepios," in Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, iii. (New York, 1894); W. H. D. Rouse, Greek Votive Offerings (1902).

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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  1. (Roman mythology) The god of medicine and healing


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