The God Of Medicine And Healing – Asclepius
I have been a physician now for over 35 years. As a graduating medical student, I can remember taking the Hippocratic Oath which begins with: “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygeia and by Panacea and all gods…”. I often wondered about the Greek god Asclepius, and recalled as a high school student, visiting the Asclepian Sanctuary established in 600 BCE in Epidaurus, Greece, and remembering the tales of how ancients would come to the sanctuary seeking help with their infirmities. Little did I know then that the principles of these treatments would resonate closely with many healing methods used today.
According to mythology, Asclepius is the god of medicine and healing. He was the son of Apollo and Coronis. He was raised by the centaur Chiron, and was instructed by him in the art of medicine. One of the traditional forms of medical treatment attributed to Asclepius is the use of non-venomous snakes that moved about the sanctuary among the sick and feeble. Their bites apparently had healing properties. Interestingly, the rod of Asclepius is a snake-entwined staff, and remains the symbol of medicine to this day.
Many years later, as a pediatric neurosurgeon, I had the opportunity to visit another Asclepian sanctuary near Pergamon, Turkey. I realized then that the Asclepian cult had grown quite widely across Europe and Asia Minor in Greek and Roman times, and that such sanctuaries had proliferated throughout the ancient world.
Of further interest, Asclepian sanctuaries used water therapy in their environment and in the purification processes that followed. Water therapy was administered as a means to encourage patients to enter a trance-like state, and to dream about being rid of their diseases. Other treatments included mud baths, stress relief, sun exposure, and special diets. Cures were typically attributed to Asclepius, and patients would make such offerings as incense or coins, to show their respect.
To me, it was fascinating to think that many of the treatments offered at the Asclepian sanctuaries are still in practice to this day in modern spas where one can take advantage of the many packages that are available to make one feel wholly well again. Time and again, I have marveled at what the ancients knew about life, health and disease despite not having the same breadth and depth of knowledge we have today in modern medicine. While we have come a long way in our understanding of the causes of and treatments for innumerable diseases that afflict mankind, it is nice to know that some healing traditions have stood the test of time, and tie humanity together over the millennia.