Minor Greek God Asclepius  

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Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology, according to which he was born a mortal but was given immortality as the constellation Ophiuchus after his death. His name means "cut up," and (perhaps incidentially) shares a root with the word scalpel. He represents the healing aspect of the medical arts, while his daughters Hygieia, Meditrine, and Panacea symbolize the forces of cleanliness, medicine and healing (literally, "all-healing"), respectively. Occasionally he is also linked to his son Telesforos, who represents the powers of recuperation.

Coronis (or Arsinoe) became pregnant with Asclepius by Apollo but fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus. A crow informed Apollo of the affair and he sent his sister, Artemis, to kill Coronis. Her body was burned on a funeral pyre, staining the white feathers of the crows permanently black. Apollo rescued the baby performing the first caesarean section and gave it to the centaur Chiron to raise. Engraged by his grief, Coronis' father Phlegyas torched the Apollonian temple at Delphi, for which Apollo promptly killed him.

Chiron taught Asclepius the art of surgery, teaching him to be the most well-respected doctor of his day. According to the Pythian Odes of Pindar, Chiron also taught him the use of drugs, incantations and love potions. In The Library, Apollodorus claimed that Athena gave him a vial of blood from the Gorgons. Gorgon blood had magical properties: if taken from the left side of the Gorgon, it was a fatal poison; from the right side, the blood was capable of bringing the dead back to life. According to some, Asclepius fought alongside the Achaeans in the Trojan War, and cured Philoctetes of his famous snake bite. However, others have attributed this to either Machaon or Podalirius, Asclepius' sons, who Homer mentions repeatedly in his Iliad as talented healers. Asclepius, on the other hand, is only refered to in Homer in relation to Machaon and Podalirius.

Asclepius' powers were not appreciated by all, and his ability to revive the dead soon drew the ire of Zeus, who struck him down with a thunderbolt. According to some, Zeus was angered, specifically, by Asclepius' acceptance of money in exchange for resurrection. Others say that Zeus killed Asclepius after he agreed to resurrect Hippolytus at the behest of Athena. In this version, Zeus smote both men with one bolt. Either way, Asclepius' death at the hands of Zeus illustrates man's inability to challenge the natural order that separates mortal men from the gods.

In retaliation for Asclepius' murder at the hands of Zeus, Apollo killed the Cyclopes, who fashioned Zeus' thunderbolts.

After he realized Asclepius' importance to the world of men, Zeus placed him in the sky as the constellation Ophiuchus. The name, "serpent-bearer," refers to the Asclepius' staff, which was entwined with a single serpent. This symbol has now become a symbol for physicians across the globe. However, one should be careful not to confuse the Staff of Asclepius, which features a single serpent, with the Caduceus of Mercury (Roman), or the Karykeion of Hermes. The Caduceus, which features two intertwined serpents (rather than the single serpent in Asclepius' wand), as well as a pair of wings, has long been a symbol of commerce. It is thought that the two were first confused in the seventh century A.D., when alchemists often used the caduceus to symbolize their assosiation with magical or "hermetic" arts.

In honor of Asclepius, snakes were often used in healing rituals. Non-poisonous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. Starting about 300 BCE, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular. His healing temples were called asclepieion; pilgrims flocked to them to be healed. They slept overnight and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium.

Hippocrates, the legendary doctor, may have begun his career at an asclepieion on the island of Cos.

Asclepius was married to Salus (or Epione) and with her fathered six daughters: Aceso, Iaso, Panacea, Aglaea, Meditrine and Hygieia, and three sons: Machaon, Telesforos and Polidarius. His most famous sanctuary was in Epidaurus in Northeastern Peloponnese.

Socrates' last words as reported in Plato's Phaedo are a reminder to Crito to sacrifice a cock, a bird sacred to Asclepius.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..."The botanical genus Asclepias (known as milkweeds, is named after him, including the medicinal A. tuberosa or "Pleurisy root")

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This entry was posted on 27 August 2010 at Friday, August 27, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the .