Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 1 >> Isculapius to Or School Alexandrian Age >> Isculapius

Isculapius

god, cult, apollo and tradition

.ISCULA'PIUS (Greek Asclepios), the god of medicine among the ancient Greeks and Romans. In Homer he is merely a man, the god of medicine being n; the deification was probably founded on the Homeric story, and at any rate was subsequent. The notion that he was originally a god of light or the un derworld, °reduced° to the tradition of a hu man being, inverts all historic processes and the nature of early thought. In Homer he has two sons, Machaon and Podalirius, famous as heroes and physicians; they are called Asclepia dae, a name retained by their descendants or at least a priestly physician-caste. His daughters, Hygeia (health), Panacea (all-healer), Iaso (healer), etc., are later inventions, abstractions of relevant ideas. The later myths vary; some call him son of Apollo and Arsinoe, some of Apollo and Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas. In Hesiod the nymph was faithless, and with her bridegroom Ischys (one of the Lapithae) was slain by the gods (the raven who brought the news being changed from black to white as a punishment) ; but Apollo rescued his unborn son from the mother's body on the funeral pile, and put him under charge of Chiron, where he grew to excel his master, able not only to prevent death but to raise the dead. At Pluto's complaint Zeus slew him with a thun derbolt, and after his death he received divine honors. The supposition that his worship originated in the Peneus Valley in Thessaly is perhaps due to the Homeric tradition being our earliest record; but if he was originally a healer wonderful to rude barbarians, it is likely enough that the tradition was Thessalian. Any

way, Tricca there was an old focus of his cult; but it flourished also to the south, perhaps car ried there by the Thessalians forced southward by invaders. It had noted seats in Phocis, Bceotia, and especially in the Peloponnesus, where Thelpusa in Arcadia was one familiar seat; but by far the greatest was Epidaurus, south of Corinth. Here was a temple in a grove, where the sick had to spend a night, and the proper remedies were revealed to the priests in a dream, and the cured made sacrifice to lEsculapius, commonly a cock. The sleep was of course a mere part of the priests' mystifi cation; but from their accumulated experience and their register of cases they must have be come really expert physicians for the times. From thence the worship spread all over Greece and the islands and to Rome — nearly 200 tem ples in all; there were celebrated ones at Cos, Cnidus and Pergamus; the cult was introduced into Athens as late as 420 a.c., and to Rome 293•a.c., in consequence of a plague. Consult Walton, 'The Cult of Asklepios' (New York 1894); Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, 'Isyllus von Epidauros' (Berlin 1886).