Asclepius - Aesculapius - Myth and mythology

the father of medicine

Acropolis Museum, Athens (Greece)

At that time she was Coronis, daughter of Phlegia king of the Lapiths, the lover of the godApollo. The legends tell that one day the god, having to move away from Coronide, entrusted the custody of it to a raven with feathers as white as snow. Coronides, who was attracted to Ischi son of Elato, took advantage of Apollo's absence to welcome Ischi into his bed. The crow, who had witnessed the scene, immediately ran to Apollo to warn him of what was happening and the latter, blinded by jealousy, killed Coronis and her lover by shooting two arrows from his bow: one for the unfaithful to the other for the her lover (according to another version it was Artemis who killed Coronis at the request of Apollo).

Note 1

Dying Coronis revealed to Apollo that she was pregnant and that the baby was due to be born shortly thereafter. At that point Apollo, overwhelmed by pain for the gesture he had performed, first cursed the crow who had so zealously warned him but without telling him exactly how things were, condemning him and all his progeny to have black feathers like the night. Secondly, he drew the son still alive from the womb and hugged him in his arms (according to other versions it was Hermes who took the newborn from the womb was Apollo's exhortation).

The boy was called Asclepius and was entrusted by his father to the care and teachings of the sagecentaur Chironnear the slopes of Mount Pelo, where the centaur lived. King Phlegia, the father of Coronides, learned of the death of his daughter, blinded by anger, went with his army to Delphus and destroyed the temple dedicated to Apollo who to take revenge on outraged, he shot one of his arrows at Phlegia, killing him.

Bas-relief, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Meanwhile Asclepius grew strong and wise thanks to the teachings of Chiron and the more time passed, the more skilled and wise he became in the use of medicaments and surgical instruments, so much so that he decided to make his One day he received as a gift fromAthenatwo vials: one containing the blood that had leaked from the veins of the left side of the bodyGorgona Medusathat he had the power to raise the dead; another with the blood that had flowed from the right side of the same body but which had the power to give death.

Statue of Aesculapius
Capitoline Museums, Rome (Italy)

Asclepius began to use this blood and many benefited from this extraordinary gift: Lycurgus, Capaneo, Tindareo, Glauco, Ippolito, and many others who were brought back to life.

Everything was going well until thatHades, who reigned over the world of the dead he went fromZeusto ask him to stop Asclepius because in his opinion he was subverting the natural order of things and the very laws of nature. Zeus, after having carefully listened to him, agreed with him and decided that the work of Asclepius had to be interrupted and so he threw his thunderbolts on him, killing him.

Apollo, learning of the death of his son and disapproving of Zeus's behavior, went to the abode of the Cyclops, who had the task of creating the thunderbolts for Zeus, and killed them all.

Asclepius after his death, was rewarded by Zeus who for his wisdom raised him to the rank of divinity, making him raise temples and statues.

Zeus made him a constellation, the constellation of Ophiuchus (Ophiucus) from the Greek "ofiókos = he who holds the snake": it is seen starting from the month of May and until September and is represented as a man holding a snake in his hands and for this reason it is also called Serpentarium.

Snakes were consecrated to him in Asclepius. In fact, a legend tells that one day while he was thinking about how to resurrect Glauco (son of Minos and Pasiphae) he was holding a stick on which a snake tried to climb. Asclepius, annoyed, killed him with sticks. Soon after another snake came and placed a grass on the head of the dead snake and it was resurrected. Then Asclepius took that same herb and brought Glaucus back to life with it. Hence probably the association of the snake with Asclepius.

The science of medicine was consecrated to Asclepius and temples and statues were erected to him and quickly his cult spread everywhere in the known world becoming the father of medicine.

For the Romans his cult became the cult of Aesculapius introduced in 293 BC by order of the Sibillini Books to put an end to a terrible epidemic.

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

(1) Original photograph courtesy of National Park Service (USA)

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