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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Asclepius, Hygeia, Panacea, and Iaso

Asclepius (Latin Aesculapius), the god of the medical art. In the Homeric poems Aesculapius does not appear to be considered as a divinity, but merely as a human being, which is indicated by the adjective amumôn, which is never given to a god. No allusion is made to his descent, and he is merely mentioned as the iêtêr amumôn, and the father of Machaon and Podaleirius. (Il. ii. 731, iv. 194, xi. 518.) From the fact that Homer (Od. iv. 232) calls all those who practice the healing art descendants of Paeëon, and that Podaleirius and Machaon are called the sons of Aesculapius, it has been inferred, that Aesculapius and Paeëon are the same being, and consequently a divinity. But wherever Homer mentions the healing god, it is always Paeëon, and never Aesculapius; and as in the poet's opinion all physicians were descended from Paeëon, he probably considered Aesculapius in the same light. This supposition is corroborated by the fact, that in later times Paeëon was identified with Apollo, and that Aesculapius is universally described as a descendant of Apollo. The two sons of Aesculapius in the Iliad, were the physicians in the Greek army, and are described as ruling over Tricca, Ithome, and Oechalia. (Il. ii. 729.) According to Eustathius (ad Hom. p. 330), Lapithes was a son of Apollo and Stilbe, and Aesculapius was a descendant of Lapithes. This tradition seems to be based on the same groundwork as the more common one, that Aesculapius was a son of Apollo and Coronis, the daughter of Phlegyas, who is a descendant of Lapithes. (Apollod. iii. 10. § 3; Pind. Pyth. iii. 14, with the Schol.)

 Ancient Greek votive relief. 400 BC. Asclepius is sitting on an omphalos between his wife Epione and a man clad in himation. New Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 118 - 122 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Leukippos (Leucippus) also was the father of Arsinoe. Apollo had sex with her, and she bore him Asclepius. Some say, however, that Asclepius was not born of Leukippos' daughter Arsinoe, but rather of Phlegyas' daughter Coronis in Thessalia (Thessaly). Apollo fell in love with her and immediately had intercourse with her, but she, despite her father' advice, preferred Kaineus' (Caeneus') son Iskhys (Ischys) and lived with him. When a raven told Apollo this, he cursed it and turned it black in place of the white it had been before, and he killed Coronis. As she was being consumed on her funeral pyre, he snatched her baby fire and took him to the Centaur  Chiron, who reared him and taught him medicine and hunting. As a surgeon Asclepius became so skilled in his profession that he not only saved lived but even revived the dead; for he had received from Athena the blood that had coursed though the Gorgon's veins, the left-side portion of which he used to destroy people, but that on the right he used for their preservation, which is how he could revive those who had died. Zeus was afraid that men might learn the art of medicine from Asklepius and help each other out, so he hit him with a thunderbolt. This angered Apollo, who slew the Cyclopes, for they designed the thunderbolt for Zeus."

Pindar, Nemean Ode 3. 51 ff :
"Wise-hearted Chiron nursed the great Iason under his roof, and to Asclepius taught the soft-fingered skills of medicine's lore." 

Pindar, Pythian Ode 3. 45 ff :
"He [Apollo] took the child [Asklepius] the the Magnetian Centaur, that he teach him to be a healer for mankind of all their maladies and ills. All then who came to Asklepious, some plagues with sores of festering growths, some wounded by the stokes of weapons of bright bronze, of by the slinger's shot of stone, others with limbs ravaged by summer's fiery heat or by the winter's cold, to each for every various ill he made the remedy, and gave deliverance from pain, some with the gently songs of incantation others he cured with soothing droughts of medicines, or wrapped their limbs around with doctored salves, and some he made whole with the surgeon's knife."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 38 :
"Chiron . . . is thought to have reared Aesculapius and Achilles."
 Chiron and Achilles in a fresco from Herculaneum
Various hypotheses have been brought forward to explain the origin of his worship in Greece; and, while some consider Aesculapius to have been originally a real personage, whom tradition had connected with various marvelous stories, others have explained all the legends about him as mere personifications of certain ideas. The serpent, the perpetual symbol of Aesculapius, has given rise to the opinion, that the worship was derived from Egypt, and that Aesculapius was identical with the serpent Cnuph worshipped in Egypt, or with the Phoenician Esmun. (Euseb. Praep. Evang. i. 10; comp. Paus. vii. 23. § 6.) But it does not seem necessary to have recourse to foreign countries in order to explain the worship of this god. His story is undoubtedly a combination of real events with the results of thoughts or ideas, which, as in so many instances in Greek mythology, are, like the former, considered as facts. The kernel, out of which the whole myth has grown, is perhaps the account we read in Homer; but gradually the sphere in which Aesculapius acted was so extended, that he became the representative or the personification of the healing powers of nature, which are naturally enough described as the son (the effects) of Helios,--Apollo, or the Sun.
 C2nd - C3rd AD

The god Asclepius disembarks from a ship holding his serpent-coiled staff in hand. He is welcomed to the island by two Koans. The seated figure on the left is probably the physician Hippocrates.


Stesichorus, Fragment 147 (from Sextus Empricicus, Against the Professors) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C7th to 6th B.C.) :
"It is said Asclepius was enticed by gold to raise up the dead Hippolytos; others say he raised Tyndareus, others Capaneus, others Glaucus, the Orphics Hymenaios (Hymenaeus), while Stesikhoros (Stesichorus) speaks of Kapaneus and Lykourgos (Lycurgus)."

Pindar, Pythian Ode 3. 54 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"[Asklepius] a healer for mankind of all their maladies and ills . . . And yet to profit even the skills of wisdom yield themselves captive. For a lordly bribe, gold flashing in the hand, even this man [Asklepius] was tempted to bring back to life one whom the jaws of death had seized already. With fierce hands swiftly the son of Cronus [Zeus] loosed his anger on these two; his blazing bolt stripped from them both their breath of life, and hurled them to their fate."

Philodemus, On Piety (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV Stesichorus Frag 147 & Cinesias Frag 774) (C7th to 6th B.C.) :
"Zeus killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt, according to the author of the Naupactica [Greek epic C6th-5th B.C.] and Telestes in his Asklepius [Greek poet C5th B.C.] and Cinesias the lyric poet [C5th B.C.], because he raised Hippolytos from the dead at Artemis' request; according to Stesikhoros [lyric poet C6th-5th B.C.] in his Eriphyle, it was because he raised Capaneus and  Lycurgus."

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1017 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"But a man's blood, once it has first fallen by murder to earth in a dark tide--who by magic spell shall call it back? Even he [Asklepius] who possessed the skill to raise from the dead--did not Zeus make an end of him as warning?"

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 121 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"As a surgeon Asclepius became so skilled in his profession that he not only saved lived but even revived the dead; for he had received from Athena the blood that had coursed though the Gorgon's veins, the left-side portion of which he used to destroy people, but that on the right he used for their preservation, which is how he could revive those who had died. Zeus was afraid that men might learn the art of medicine from Asklepius and help each other out, so he hit him with a thunderbolt. This angered Apollo, who slew the (Cyclopes, for they designed the thunderbolt for Zeus." 

The temples  of Asclepius were not only places of worship, but were frequented by great numbers of sick persons, and may therefore be compared to modern hospitals. (Plut. Quaest. Rom. p. 286, D.) The principal seat of his worship in Greece was Epidaurus, where he had a temple surrounded with an extensive grove, within which no one was allowed to die, and no woman to give birth to a child. His sanctuary contained a magnificent statue of ivory and gold, the work of Thrasymedes, in which he was represented as a handsome and manly figure, resembling that of Zeus. (Paus. ii. 26 and 27.) He was seated on a throne, holding in one hand a staff, and with the other resting upon the head of a dragon (serpent), and by his side lay a dog. (Paus. ii. 27. § 2.) Serpents were everywhere connected with the worship of Aesculapius, probably because they were a symbol of prudence and renovation, and were believed to have the power of discovering herbs of wondrous powers, as is indicated in the story about Aesculapius and the serpents in the house of Glaucus. Serpents were further believed to be guardians of wells with salutary powers. For these reasons a peculiar kind of tame serpents, in which Epidaurus abounded, were not only kept in his temple (Paus. ii. 28. § 1), but the god himself frequently appeared in the form of a serpent. (Paus. iii. 23. § 4; Val. Max. i. 8. § 2; Liv. Epit. 11; compare the account of Alexander Pseudomantis in Lucian.)

Votive relied in the form of two adjacent buildings, a temple and a stoa. Mid-4th cent. BC Asclepius with his wife Epione and their daughter Hygieia. Worshipers bring a pig to the alter for sacrifice and a box containing gifts.

The sick, who visited the temples of Aesculapius, had usually to spend one or more nights in his sanctuary (katheudein, ineubare, Paus. ii. 27 § 2), during which they observed certain rules prescribed by the priests. The god then usually revealed the remedies for the disease in a dream. (Aristoph. Plut. 662, &c.; Cic. De Div. ii. 59 ; Philostr. Vita Apollon. i. 7; Jambl. De Myst. iii. 2.) It was in allusion to this incubatio that many temples of Aesculapius contained statues representing Sleep and Dream. (Paus. ii. 10. § 2.) Those whom the god cured of their disease offered a sacrifice to him, generally a cock (Plat. Phacd. p. 118) or a goat (Paus. x. 32. § 8; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. ii. 380), and hung up in his temple a tablet recording the name of the sick, the disease, and the manner in which the cure had been effected.


 Colossal head of Asclepius wearing a metal crown (now lost), from a cult statue. Hellenistic artwork.

 Rod of Asclepius

 Statue of Asclepius, exhibited in the Museum of Epidaurus Theatre.


 Asclepius and Hippolytus by Giovan Battista Caccini

 The descendants of Aesculapius were called by the patronymic name Asclepiadae. (Asklêpiadai.) Those writers, who consider Aesculapius as a real personage, must regard the Asclepiadae as his real descendants, to whom he transmitted his medical knowledge, and whose principal seats were Cos and Cnidus. (Plat. de Re Publ. iii. p. 405, &c.) But the Asclepiadae were also regarded as an order or caste of priests, and for a long period the practice of medicine was intimately connected with religion. The knowledge of medicine was regarded as a sacred secret, which was transmitted from father to son in the families of the Asclepiadae, and we still possess the oath which every one was obliged to take when he was put in possession of the medical secrets. (Galen, Anat. ii. p. 128 Aristid. Orat. i. p. 80.)

 Asclepius, from the marble statue in the Louvre. Engraving by Jenkins.

Edward John Poynter - A visit to Aesclepius

Albrecht DÜRER, Male Nude with a Glass and Snake, so-called Asclepius 

HYGEIA was the goddess of good health. She was a daughter and attendant of the medicine-god Asklepius, and a companion of the goddess Aphrodite. Her sisters included Panacea (All-Cure) and Iaso (Remedy).
Hygeia's opposite number were the Nosoi (Spirits of Disease). The Romans named her Salus.
IASO was the goddess of cures, remedies and modes of healing.

Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 939 (Inscription from Erythrai) (trans. Campbell) (B.C.) :
"By him [Asklepius] were fathered Makhaon and Podaleirios and Iaso (Healer)--ie Paian!--and fair-eyed Aigle (Radiance) and Panacea, Cure-all, children of Epione, along with Hygieia (Health), all-glorious, undefiled."

Marble relief of Asclepius and his daughter Hygeia. From Therme, Greece, end of the 5th century BC.



 Gustav Klimt, HYGEIA

Panacea Helping the Sick. The Veronese physician J. Gazola created this picture as part of a larger woodcut in 1716. 
Detail of Iaso, the goddess of healing, from a scene depicting a group of goddesses. The others (not shown) are Hippodame, Asteria and Eurynoe. Iaso gazes at herself in a mirror, presumably as a sign of good health. ca 400 BC

 Casino in landscape Klein-Glienicke, Berlin, Germany. Partial view of the wall to the garden with the statue of "Asklepios".

 Aesculapius with snake staff. Sculpture by Alessandro and Francesco Sanguinetti. Between 1848 and 1859. Half rondel Neues Palais, Potsdam, Germany

The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett. 1850s