An Introduction to Asklepios (Asclepius)

Asklepios, son of Apollo, is a god of healing and medicine. Born a mortal, he died, but somehow eventually attained a unique status between god and hero. In addition to being the recipient of prayers  by the ailing and injured, Asklepios was also the patron god of physicians.

Asklepios’ family was also associated with the healing field; the best known of his children is probably Hygeia (Health), whose focus is on preventive care.

Myths and Stories

Asklepios, taught by the centaur Cheiron to be a great healer, crossed a line when he attempted to raise the dead, and Zeus struck him down with a thunderbolt. In anger, Apollo killed the Cyclops who created the thunderbolt in the first place, and was made to serve a mortal for a year in punishment. (Asklepios death was, nonetheless, a temporary setback.)

Names and Epithets

Asklepios was known by several epithets, often having to do with his healing functions.

Asklepios Epios (Asklepios the Soothing) referred to his kindness and gentle touch.

Asklepios Iatros (Asklepios the Physician) referred in more general terms to his skill as a healer.

Festivals

A widely popular god, Asklepios’ worship spread rapidly, and his healing sanctuaries arose throughout Greece as soon as he was introduced. Those in need of healing visited these sanctuaries, hoping for healing, or for a dream telling them of a cure for their malady.

He had two festivals in Athens despite his late arrival to that city, the Epidauria and the Asklepaia, held at roughly six-month intervals during the year.

Symbols

Asklepios’ main symbol is the Staff or Rod of Asklepios, a staff wound about with a single snake. It is often confused with the caduceus, the heralds’ staff of Hermes, which is a winged staff wound about with two snakes–in fact, the caduceus is today more strongly associated with the medical profession than with that of the messenger.

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