Who was Aesculapius?
Aesculapius was the Roman god of healing and medicine and strongly associated with his father, the Roman 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 Diana 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 Aesculapius
The following information, facts and profile provides a fast overview of Aesculapius:
Roman Name: Aesculapius
Role & Function: The function of Aesculapius is described as being the god of healing and medicine
Status: Minor Roman god
Symbols: The Rod of Aesculapius, 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.
Greek Counterpart: The Greek name for Aesculapius was Asclepius
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
Aesculapius (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 that were worshipped in Ancient Rome. Many of the Greek gods were therefore adopted by the Greeks but were given Latin names. His Greek counterpart was Asclepius. Another counterpart was Imhotep the Egyptian god of Healing and Medicine.
The Rod of Aesculapius - The Medical Profession
The Rod of Aesculapius 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 Aesculapius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods…”
So, presumably, the Rod of Aesculapius was the symbol that should be used by the medical profession. The Rod of Aesculapius and the Caduceus are two different symbols and two different objects.
One survey suggests that 62% of professional healthcare organisations use the Rod of Aesculapius as their symbol whereas 76% of commercial healthcare organisations use the Caduceus as their symbol.
The Caduceus means “herald’s staff of office” in Roman and is associated with Mercury, the Roman 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 Mercury who was the messenger god and the deliverer of information
The Rod of Aesculapius is a physician's staff, or healing scepter, entwined with a single, large, non-venomous snake
The Aesculapian snake depicted on the Rod of Aesculapius 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 Aesculapius, which also served as an ancient form of hospital
The snake symbolized rejuvenation and healing to many ancient cultures
The Temples of Aesculapius
There were many temples dedicated to Aesculapius 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 shrine area of the biggest temples were 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.
Aesculapius and other Gods of Healing
There were other Roman gods of healing, medicine and well being. All of the daughters of Aesculapius, Aceso, Meditrina, Iaso, Panacea, Aglaea and Hygieia, were associated with medicine and were gods of healing:
Angitia, snake goddess associated with healing
Apollo, god of music, healing, medicine and plague
Bona Dea, goddess of fertility, healing, virginity, and women
Cardea, goddess of health, thresholds and door hinges and handles
Carna, goddess who presided over the heart and other organs
Diana, goddess of the hunt, childbirth, fertility, plague and good health
Endovelicus, god of public health and safety
Febris, goddess who embodied and protected people from fever and malaria
Vejovis, god of healing
Verminus, god who protected cattle from disease