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Title: Asclepius  
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Subject: Apollo, Greek mythology, Pan (god), Chthonic, Twelve Olympians
Collection: Asclepius, Greek Mythological Hero Cult, History of Medicine, Offspring of Apollo
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God of medicine, healing, rejuvenation and physicians
Symbol A serpent-entwined staff
Consort Epione
Parents Apollo and Coronis
Siblings Step-siblings of Asclepius
Children Hygieia (daughter)
Iaso (daughter)
Aceso (daughter)
Aglaea (daughter)
Panacea (daughter)
Machaon (son)
Podalirius (son)
Telesphoros (son)
Aratus (son)
Roman equivalent Vejovis

Asclepius (; Greek: Ἀσκληπιός, Asklēpiós ; Latin: Aesculapius) was a god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Hygiene", the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa/Ægle (the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis. He was one of Apollo's sons, sharing with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer").[1] The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today. Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius.


  • Etymology 1
  • Mythology 2
    • Birth 2.1
    • Education 2.2
    • Wives and offspring 2.3
    • Death 2.4
  • Sacred places and practices 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The etymology of the name is unknown. In his revised version of Frisk's Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Greek Etymological Dictionary), R. S. P. Beekes gives this summary of the different attempts:

"H. Grégoire (with R. Goossens and M. Mathieu) in Asklépios, Apollon Smintheus et Rudra 1949 (Mém. Acad. Roy. de Belgique. Cl. d. lettres. 2. sér. 45), explains the name as 'the mole-hero', connecting σκάλοψ, ἀσπάλαξ 'mole' and refers to the resemblance of the Tholos in Epidauros and the building of a mole. (Thus Puhvel, Comp. Mythol. 1987, 135.) But the variants of Asklepios and those of the word for 'mole' do not agree.
The name is typical for Pre-Greek words; apart from minor variations (β for π, αλ(α) for λα) we find α/αι (a well known variation; Fur. 335-339) followed by -γλαπ- or -σκλαπ-/-σχλαπ/β-, i.e. a voiced velar (without -σ-) or a voiceless velar (or an aspirated one: we know that there was no distinction between the three in the substr. language) with a -σ-. I think that the -σ- renders an original affricate, which (prob. as δ) was lost before the -γ- (in Greek the group -σγ- is rare, and certainly before another consonant).
Szemerényi's etymology (JHS 94, 1974, 155) from Hitt. assula(a)- 'well-being' and piya- 'give' cannot be correct, as it does not explain the velar."[2]

Beekes suggested a Pre-Greek proto-form *Atyklap-.[3]



He was the son of Apollo and, according to the earliest accounts, a mortal woman named Coronis.[4] His mother was killed for being unfaithful to Apollo and was laid out on a funeral pyre to be consumed, but the unborn child was rescued from her womb. Or, alternatively, his mother died in labor and was laid out on the pyre to be consumed, but his father rescued the child, cutting him from her womb. From this he received the name Asklepios, "to cut open."[5][6]


Apollo carried the baby to the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius and instructed him in the art of medicine.[7] It is said that in return for some kindness rendered by Asclepius, a snake licked Asclepius’ ears clean and taught him secret knowledge (to the Greeks snakes were sacred beings of wisdom, healing, and resurrection). Asclepius bore a rod wreathed with a snake, which became associated with healing. To this day a species of non-venomous pan-Mediterranean serpent, the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) is named for the god.

Asclepius became so proficient as a healer that he surpassed both Chiron and his father, Apollo. Asclepius was therefore able to evade death and to bring others back to life from the brink of death and beyond. This caused an influx of human beings and Zeus resorted to killing him to maintain balance in the numbers of the human population.

Wives and offspring

Asclepios with his daughter Hygieia

Asclepius was married to Epione, with whom he had five daughters: Hygieia, Panacea, Aceso, Iaso, and Aglaea,[8][9] and three sons: Machaon, Podaleirios and Telesphoros. He also sired a son, Aratus, with Aristodama. The names of his daughters each rather transparently reflect a certain subset of the overall theme of "good health".[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]

At some point, Asclepius was among those who took part in the Calydonian Boar hunt.


Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt because he brought Hippolytus back alive from the dead and accepted gold for it.[16] Other stories say that Asclepius was killed because after bringing people back from the dead, Hades thought that no more dead spirits would come to the underworld, so he asked his brother Zeus to stop him. This angered Apollo who in turn killed the Cyclopes who made the thunderbolts for Zeus.[17] For this act, Zeus suspended Apollo from the night sky[18] and commanded Apollo to serve Admetus, King of Thessaly for a year. Once the year had passed, Zeus brought Apollo back to Mount Olympus and revived the Cyclopes that made his thunderbolts.[15][19] After Asclepius' death, Zeus placed his body among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus ("the Serpent Holder").[20]

Some sources also stated that Asclepius was later resurrected as a god by Zeus to prevent any further feuds with Apollo. It was also claimed that Asclepius was instructed by Zeus to never revive the dead without his approval again.

Sacred places and practices

Majestic Zeus-like facial features of Asclepius head (Melos)

The most famous temple of Asclepius was at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese, dated to the fourth century BC.[21] Another famous healing temple (or asclepieion) was built approximately a century later on the island of Kos,[21] where Hippocrates, the legendary "father of medicine", may have begun his career. Other asclepieia were situated in Trikala, Gortys (in Arcadia), and Pergamum in Asia.

From the fifth century BC onwards,[22] the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the god (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary - the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation.[23] Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.[24] In honor of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and these snakes — the Aesculapian Snakes — slithered around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. These snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius throughout the classical world.

The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods ...".[24]

Asclepius - a fragment of mosaic bathroom in Kyustendil (Bulgaria), author Nikolai Zikov

Some later religious movements claimed links to Asclepius. In the 2nd century AD the controversial miracle-worker Alexander claimed that his god Glycon, a snake with a "head of linen"[25] was an incarnation of Asclepius. The Greek language rhetorician and satirist Lucian produced the work Alexander the False Prophet to denounce the swindler for future generations. He described Alexander as having a character "made up of lying, trickery, perjury, and malice; [it was] facile, audacious, venturesome, diligent in the execution of its schemes, plausible, convincing, masking as good, and wearing an appearance absolutely opposite to its purpose."[25] In Rome, the College of Aesculapius and Hygia was an association (collegium) that served as a burial society and dining club that also participated in Imperial cult.

The botanical genus Asclepias (commonly known as milkweed) is named after him and includes the medicinal plant A. tuberosa or "Pleurisy root".

Asclepius was depicted on the reverse of the Greek 10,000 drachmas banknote of 1995-2001.[26]

In popular culture

  • Asclepius is mentioned by Hercules in the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "Siege at Naxos." He is mentioned to be Hercules' as his cousin who taught him how to mix healing herbs and medicines. In "The Apple," Hercules told Iolaus that Asclepius often said "An apple a day keeps Asclepius away" and that he never quite knew what was meant by that. In "Centaur Mentor Journey," Asclepius was one of the students mentored by the centaur Ceridian. When Ceridian was dying, Hercules suggested that Asclepius might be able to help. Ceridian knew better.
  • In the fantasy novel The Son of Neptune, the Roman Lar Gaius Vitellius Reticulus was a descendant of Asclepius. Later, in The Blood of Olympus, a novel from the same series, Asclepius was mentioned by Apollo, his father, when Leo Valdez speaks to him. The god himself appears when Leo, Piper McLean, and Jason Grace visit his office to retrieve the physician's cure, which can bring the recently deceased back to life. He quickly diagnoses Jason with myopia and gives him a pair of glasses. Later, he uses the Pylosian mint (the "cursed" daisy) and the Makhai to formulate the physician's cure and gives the trio instructions on its use.
  • In the short story "The Two Temples" by Herman Melville, the narrator, hired by a lady as a personal physician, describes his job as "the post of private Æsculapius and knightly companion."
  • In the manga Saint Seiya: Next Dimension, the Ophiuchus Gold Saint is loosely based on the figure of Asclepius, since it is said that he was regarded as a god and had the power to heal others, which is why the gods punished him and erased his existence.
  • In the "Trauma Center", multiple protagonists of the game hold an inherited ability called the 'Healing Touch', which is said to be an ability originally held by Asclepius.
  • Asclepius is alluded to in a Mars Volta song, "Askepios." The song makes mention of both un-death and resurrection.


  1. ^ Mitchell-Boyask, p. 141
  2. ^ Greek etymology database (online source requires login and is located at;jsessionid=02B0AB2A20E711C0F132C3A936DBC4E1 ; also in: R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 151. Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. xxv.
  4. ^ Edelstein, Ludwig and Emma Edelstein. Asclepius: a Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies. Vol. II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998. pg. 68
  5. ^ The Asklepios cult
  6. ^ NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine
  7. ^ Pindar, Pythian Ode 3.5ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric 5th century BC)
  8. ^ Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 939 (Inscription from Erythrai) (trans. Campbell) (BC)
  9. ^ a b Suidas s.v. Epione (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon 10th century AD)
  10. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.29.1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue 2nd century AD)
  11. ^ Homer, Iliad 4.193 and 217ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic 8th century BC)
  12. ^ Homer, Iliad 11.518ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic 8th century BC)
  13. ^ Homer, Iliad 2.730ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic 8th century BC)
  14. ^ Lycophron, Alexandra 1047ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet 3rd century BC)
  15. ^ a b Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.71.3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian 1st century BC)
  16. ^ Philodemus, On Piety (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV Stesichorus Frag. 147 and Cinesias Frag. 774) (7th to 6th centuries BC)
  17. ^ Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.121 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer 2nd century AD)
  18. ^ Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4.610ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic 3rd century BC)
  19. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 49 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer 2nd century AD)
  20. ^ Hyginus, Astronomica 2.14 (Latin Mythography 2nd century AD)
  21. ^ a b Edelstein, Ludwig and Emma Edelstein. Asclepius: a Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies. Vol. 2. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998. pg. 243
  22. ^ Wickkiser, Bronwen. Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-century Greece: Between Craft and Cult. Johns Hopkins Press, 2008. pg. 106
  23. ^ Sigerist 1987, pp. 63ff
  24. ^ a b Farnell, Chapter 10, "The Cult of Asklepios" (pp.234-279)
  25. ^ a b Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet (trans A.M. Harmon) (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, 1936), Lucian, vol IV. Accessible online at
  26. ^ Bank of Greece. Drachma Banknotes. 10,000 drachma note (pdf) – Retrieved on 26 July 2010.


  • Edelstein, Ludwig and Emma Edelstein. Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies. JHU Press, 1998.
  • Farnell, Lewis Richard. Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality, (Oxford Clarendon Press,1921).
  • Grimal, Pierre, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Wiley-Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 978-0-631-20102-1. "Asclepius" pp. 62–63
  • Hart, Gerald D. MD. Asclepius: The God of Medicine (Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2000)
  • Mitchell-Boyask, Robin, Plague and the Athenian Imagination: Drama, History and the Cult of Asclepius, Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-521-87345-1.
  • Riethmüller, Jürgen W. Asklepios : Heiligtümer und Kulte, Heidelberg, Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte, 2005, ISBN 3-935289-30-8
  • Sigerist, Henry E. (1987). A History of Medicine Volume 2: Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine (1st ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.  
  • Wickkiser, Bronwen. Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-century Greece: Between Craft and Cult. JHU Press, 2008.

External links

  • The dictionary definition of Asclepius at Wiktionary
  • Warburg Institute Iconographic Database (c. 100 images of Aesculapius)

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