Who is Asclepius?


You might have heard his name in the history of medicine, particularly when he’s always being associated with the universal medical symbol.

Now, who is Asclepius and what was his influence in the medical field? Why is a mythological creature so relevant in the real world?

In this article, we will have a closer look into his life. Make sure to read further.

Asclepius as a demigod

In Greco-Roman mythology, Asclepius is the son of Apollo and Princess Coronis, a mortal from Thessaly, Greece. During her pregnancy, she fell head over heels with a mortal named Ischys. Being the god of healing and sun, Apollo found out about the affair and had his twin sister, Artemis, burn his lover.

But before the killing transpired, Apollo decided to save an innocent life—his unborn child. Therefore, he took the baby from his mother’s burning womb. This particular story in Greco-Roman mythology was said to be the first Cesarean section, earning Asclepius his name, which means “to cut open.”

There is also a version wherein Asclepius was fathered by Apollo on his own. Other stories state that Princess Coronis gave birth to the demigod safely, but she abandoned the infant afterwards, leaving him under the care of a dog and goat. Asclepius was then found by Aresthanas, a goatherd, who sensed the infant’s divinity and relationship with Apollo. He then brought the infant to Apollo.

Asclepius and his healing prowess

Apollo decided to give Asclepius under the custody of Chiron, a centaur who is the son of the Titan Cronus and Philyra living at the base of Mount Pelion in Thessaly. Chiron is also well-known for his medicinal skills, and with that, he taught the growing Asclepius to be a skilled healer like him.

Chiron gave him the knowledge, while Apollo granted him the supernatural abilities to heal. Apollo, who had otherworldly skills for prophecy, plague, music, poetry, and healing, passed his skills to his son. Equipped with knowledge and divine power, Asclepius was a natural in his own habitat—administering medicine and cure to those who are sick, performing operations to those who are severely ill, and providing medicinal herbology techniques.

His medicinal influence spread throughout Greece, and soon enough, he was being praised for his healing talents. The attention and respect he is gaining has made the gods very jealous and furious of him.

His reputation was well-known in the ancient world. In fact, he was believed to be able to raise a dead person from death. The rumors stated that goddess Athena gave him two vials that contain the blood of Gorgon Medusa. One of the vials were believed to have the power to bring life back to the dead, while the other one can suck up life. Asclepius used the good vial to bring several creatures back to life, including Glaucus and Hippolytus.

Asclepius as an Argonaut

Argonauts are a group of Greek mythical heroes. Now known as Jason and the Argonauts, a team that accompanied the demigod Jason on his expedition for the Golden Fleece. Odysseus, Orpheus, Heracles, and Meleager are also members of the Argonauts.

As an Argonaut, Asclepius was prominent in the story of Calydonian Boarhunt, wherein a Calydonian Boar was wreaking havoc in a countryside. The Argonauts were called in to hunt and eventually kill the roaming beast. The hunting led to the demise of Meleager, while the remaining Argonauts surrendered the boar’s tusks to goddess Artemis.

The bloodline of Asclepius

The daughters of Asclepius were believed to be divinities associated with wellbeing, while his sons were healers like him. He tied the knot with Epione, the goddess of healing. They had a total of nine children, all of which played an important role in Greek mythology.

Laso and Telesphorous: The goddess and god of recuperation

Aglaea: Goddess of good health

Hygieia: Goddess of cleanliness

Aces: Goddess of healing

Panacea: Goddess of Remedy

Podalirius and Machaon: Powerful healers of the Trojan War

Aratus: A gifted healer

Asclepius and snakes

Asclepius is represented as a middle-aged man wearing a long tunic, exposing his bare chest, while holding a staff with one snake wrapped around it.

The snake has different stories: one narrative tells us that Asclepius healed the snake from severe injury, and in exchange, the snake whispered all the secrets of medicine to the demigod.

Another story involved a venomous bite and Asclepius’s healing prowess. It was believed that he could heal a deadly snakebite. Moreover, snakes were regarded as divine creatures possessing healing powers in ancient Greece. And if you will think about it, Asclepius and his snake are prominent in the emblems of medical institutions across the world.

The demise of Asclepius

During the height of his fame and career, he became a threat to the natural process of life and death. Zeus too feared that Asclepius’ extraordinary healing prowess could erase the gap between gods and mortals. Therefore, he killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt. He also punished his own son, Apollo, and made him a mortal to serve the king of Thessaly for a year.

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