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God of Medicine

     All traditional cultures have some personification of the Divine Healer or miracle working physician. The ancient Greeks had Asclepius, the god of medicine.
     In Homer's Iliad, Asclepius was a man, a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy. But by Hippocrates' day, he had become elevated to the status of a god.
Actually, Asclepius was a demigod, born of a divine father,Apollo, and a mortal mother, Coronis. While pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis fell in love with a mortal man and married him. This so angered Apollo that he struck both Coronis and her husband dead. As Coronis' body lay burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo performed the first Caesarian section, freeing the baby Asclepius from his mother's womb and certain death. And so, Asclepius' very birth was due to a heroic act of medical intervention.
     Apollo then took the infant to be raised by the wise old centaur Chiron, who taught him the art of healing. Asclepius became a great physician and surgeon, and raised the art of medicine to unprecedented heights.
     The goddess Athena gave Asclepius the gift of Medusa's blood. The blood from the veins on the left side of Medusa's head was for the bane of mankind, but Asclepius used the blood from the veins on the right side for saving mankind and for raising the dead.
Asclepius' raising of the dead aroused the wrath of Zeus. Not only was Zeus angered to see many of his old enemies, whom he had struck dead with his thunderbolts, returning to life, but his brother Hades, king of the underworld, was complaining about the dearth of new arrivals. And so, Zeus struck Asclepius dead with one of his thunderbolts, fearing the spread of his miraculous art of healing, especially into the wrong hands.
     Despite the rumors of his death, Asclepius became a living god. Healing sanctuaries, or Asclepions, were dedicated to him at sacred sites throughout ancient Greece.
     Asclepius often used the art of divination to obtain responses from his father Apollo through oracles. From these auguries he learned much about the natures of many drugs and herbs, and how to use them in treating disease. This knowledge he passed on to his sons, and to his students.
     Asclepius is the personification of the miracle working physician of consummate medical skill. This powerful archetype is still invoked today by many patients, desperately praying for their doctor to work them a medical miracle, to snatch life from the jaws of death. Many people place a powerful, almost religious faith in their doctors.
     While placing a supernatural, blind faith in medicine and physicians, most men actually know very little about life and death, and what they really are. On the whole, their approach to both is rather cursory and superficial. Many men waste their lives away while fearing death, without properly investigating either of them.
     Asclepius' demise at the hands of Zeus shows the ultimate powerlessness of man against the natural order and the forces of decay, destruction, and death. Even the most skillful physician cannot hold death off indefinitely, and in the end, the grim reaper always claims his due.



Cassell's Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Jenny March
Copyright 1998 by Cassell and Co. in the UK
Entry on Asclepius - pg. 139