According to ancient Greek mythology Asclepius was raised and mentored by the Centaur Chiron who taught him the art of healing. His symbol is the Rod of Asclepius a physician's staff, or healing scepter, entwined with a non-venomous snake.
Who was Asclepius?
Asclepius was the Greek god of medicine and healing and one of the extraordinary number of gods and goddesses worshipped by the Ancient Greeks. The legend and myth about Asclepius has been passed down through the ages and plays an important role in the history of the Ancient World and the study of the Greek classics. Asclepius was associated with his father, the god Apollo as the god of medicine. His mother was Coronis, one of the numerous lovers of Apollo. The god sent a white raven to watch over her and the raven informed Apollo that she had been unfaithful to him. His sister, the goddess Artemis shot and killed Coronis and in her rage turned the raven black for being the bearer of bad news. Also refer to The Myth of Asclepius, god of Healing.
Facts about Asclepius
The following information, facts and profile provides a fast overview of Asclepius:
Greek Name: Asclepius
Role & Function: The function of Asclepius is described as being the god of medicine and healing
Status: Minor Greek god
Symbols: The Rod of Asclepius, a bowl, a bunch of herbs, a pineapple, a dog, and a snake. The cockerel or rooster was also sacred to the god and was the bird they sacrificed as his altar.
Roman Counterpart: The Roman name for Asclepius was Aesculapius or Vediovis
Name of Consort: Epione
Names of Children: Six daughters called Aceso, Meditrina, Iaso, Panacea, Aglaea and Hygieia. Three sons called Machaon and Podalirius and Telesphoros. Asclepius also had another son, Aratus, with Aristodama
Asclepius (Roman Counterpart was Aesculapius or Vediovis)
When the Roman Empire conquered the Greeks in 146BC, the Romans assimilated various elements from other cultures and civilisations, including the gods and goddesses that were worshipped by the Ancient Greeks. Many of the Greek gods and goddesses were therefore adopted by the Romans but were given Latin names. His Roman counterpart was Aesculapius or Vediovis. Another counterpart was Imhotep the Egyptian god of Healing and Medicine.
The Rod of Asclepius - The Medical Profession
The Rod of Asclepius or the Caduceus have been used as the symbol of the American medical profession for over 100 years. The use of these symbols have created considerable confusion. The famous Hippocratic Oath originally began with the line:
“I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods…”
So, presumably, the Rod of Asclepius was the symbol that should be used by the medical profession. The Rod of Asclepius and the Caduceus are two different symbols and two different objects. One survey suggests that 62% of professional healthcare organisations use the Rod of Asclepius as their symbol whereas 76% of commercial healthcare organisations use the Caduceus as their symbol.
The Caduceus means “herald’s staff of office” in Greek and is associated with Hermes, the messenger of the gods. The caduceus can be described as two snakes criss-crossed around a staff that is topped by a round knob and flanked by wings. The caduceus has been used as a symbol by printers because it was the staff of Hermes who was the messenger god and the deliverer of information
The Rod of Asclepius is a physician's staff, or healing scepter, entwined with a single, large, non-venomous snake
The Aesculapian snake depicted on the Rod of Asclepius belongs to the family Colubridae & classified as Elaphe longissima and are indigenous to Southern Europe. These harmless Aesculapian snakes were kept in the temples dedicated to Asclepius, which also served as an ancient form of hospital
The snake symbolized rejuvenation and healing to many ancient cultures
The Temples of Asclepius
There were many temples dedicated to Asclepius in both Greece and later in the Roman empire. These temples also served as ancient hospitals, called asclepieion, in which orders of priest physicians, called the Asclepiadae, controlled the sacred secrets of healing, which were passed from father to son. Those seeking healing would make pilgrimages to the temples and sanctuaries offering prayers and sacrifices and making monetary gifts to the temples. The temples and sanctuaries were places of healing with sanatoria, dream therapy, regimes of diet and exercise and baths. The most famous sanctuary was located in Epidaurus which is situated in the northeastern Peloponnese that was located in a region of southern Greece. The shrine area was inhabited by thousands of non-poisonous snakes (the Aesculapian snakes) that were believed to bring healing to those who were touched by them. These snakes roamed freely and encouraged in the dormitories that held the sick.
Asclepius and other Gods of Healing
There were other Greek gods of healing, medicine and well being. All of the daughters of Asclepius, Aceso, Meditrina, Iaso, Panacea, Aglaea and Hygieia, were associated with medicine and were gods of healing:
Aceso, goddess of the healing of wounds and the curing of illness
Aglaea goddess of the healing
Aegle, goddess of radiant good health
Artemis, goddess of the hunt, childbirth, fertility, plague and good health
Apollo, god of music, healing, medicine and plague
Chiron, a centaur known for his knowledge and skill in healing who raised Asclepius
Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth
Hygieia, goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation
Iaso, goddess of cures, remedies and modes of healing
Meditrina, goddess of the healing
Paeon, physician of the gods
Panacea, goddess of healing
Telesphorus, demi-god of convalescence, recuperation from illness or injury