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ing divinity of the Greeks, the most respected exemplar of divine healing of the pagan world, and one of the most prominent deities of the pantheon. About him centered the famous and widespread cult whose devotees, the Asklepiadai, were the earliest to develop and record the clinical observations that inaugurated the evolution of medicine from a purely theurgic to a scientific basis, and whose ethical standards have been accepted throughout the Christian era.

The name.

According to an Epidaurian legend, the name Asklepios was derived from Aigle, one of his reputed mothers; but by another tradition it was traced to a combination of Askles, the name of a king whom he cured of eyedisease early in his career, with Epios ('Mild'), a term by which the god had been known." The correct etymology is quite uncertain, but it is of interest to note that the legends of Phokis associate Asklepios with Apollo at Delphoi, while those of Messenia and Lakonia bring him into relation with the sun-god Helios. Hence as a deity he appears to have been an amalgamation of a chthonic hero and a solar divinity.

His origin.

History makes no reference to the origin of Asklepios except as drawn from local traditions and myths celebrated by early Greek poets and other writers, which were evidently altered and distorted from time to time in the interest of the cult and its chief divinity. The estimates of tradition assign his life to a period anterior to the Trojan War, and about the thirteenth century B.C. Homer (Il., ii, 729; iv, 219; xi, 512) refers to him as a

60 Gruppe, op. cit., pp. 1441-1442; also Fox, Mythology, Greek and Roman, p. 279.

native of Thessaly, one of the Greek heroes who was instructed by Cheiron in the use of herbs and roots and the art of healing, and whose sons, Machaon and Podaleirios, led the men from Trikke, hilly Ithome, and Oichalia to the Trojan War, where they applied the healing art taught them by their father with such skill that they gained renown as men worth many others. It is related that, in his youth, Asklepios accompanied the Argonauts on their voyage to Kolchis, where he outstripped all other pupils of Cheiron in healing. The Minyai were among his early devotees, and it may be that it was on this expedition that he gained the favor of the tribe.

An earth-spirit and hero.

Asklepios was ranked as a hero of ancient Greece, and his cult at its inception was, accordingly, that of an earthspirit, the soul of an ancestor worshipped by his descendants. The serpent was his symbol, and he acquired an oracle. These essentially chthonic characteristics served to class him from the beginning and throughout his long career as belonging to the Underworld, notwithstanding the many aspects of a solar deity and god of light which he acquired after his apotheosis, and in which he appeared at many of his later sanctuaries. The traditions of Thessaly indicate that his own tribe and their neighbors regarded him as a hero.

Development of the cult. Asklepios and Apollo.

The cult of Asklepios, developing about the memory of his deeds of healing, grew in favor, and from Trikke, his most ancient shrine (Strabo, IX, v, 17 = p. 437 C), spread to Ithome, across the borders of Aitolia to Oichalia, to Minyean Northern Boiotia, and rested for a time at Orchomenos, near the Lebadeian shrine of Trophonios,

who was then dispensing similar benefactions.1 The cult soon gained a footing at Hyettos, Thespiai, and Thisbe. It was carried into Phokis, where the traditional and implacable attitude of the Phlegyan tribe, under whose patronage the Asklepian cult was extending, toward the cult of Apollo, which had forcibly established itself at Delphoi and presided over its oracle, resulted in a clash of interests. The compromise effected proved of advantage both to Asklepios and to Apollo. Apollo retained the Delphic oracle which he had won from Python, and Asklepios was adopted as the son of the great Olympian. The natures of the two, one a hero and the other the god of light, poetry, and music, differed materially, yet their common interest in the oracle and in healing served as a lasting bond between them. Asklepios, the earth-spirit, became subordinate to Apollo, but retained full independence for himself and his cult. Henceforth he was not only the physician and benefactor of mankind, but he was the active, efficient agent who bestowed his blessings under the divine sanction and patronage of the supreme healer. Asklepios was accorded the Homeric epithet Paian; while Apollo assumed the title Maleates, the name of a god who was supposed to have come from the North with Asklepios, so that as Apollo Maleates he presided over the great healing sanctuary of Epidauros. Apollo received a share of the shrine at Trikke, which, Isyllos intimates in a pæan, retained a relic of the primitive ritual, a cave into which the suppliant descended to communicate with the earth-god or hero. It may be surmised that the adjustment effected at Delphoi and the association at Trikke marked the beginning of the traditions

61 E. Thrämer, in Pauly-Wissowa, ii, 1643.


62 Walton, The Cult of Asklepios, pp. 43 f.; cf. also von Wiliamowitz-Möllendorf, Isyllos von Epidauros, and Baunack, Arische Studien, i, 147-160.

that connected Apollo with the birth-legends of Asklepios, and that the original tradition gave the honor of the paternity of Asklepios to a certain Ischys rather than the mythical Apollo.

The birth-legends.

The oldest definite and most generally accepted legend of the birth of Asklepios follows the account found in the Homeric Hymn to Asklepios, Hesiod's Fragmenta, and Pindar's third Pythian Ode, which make him a member of the Phlegyan tribe, inhabiting the Magnesian coast and Phthiotis, and possibly related to the Lapithai. The Homeric Hymn is as follows:

I begin to sing of Asklepios, son of Apollo and healer of diseases, whom fair Koronis, daughter of Phlegyas, bare in the Dotian plain, a great joy to men, a soother of cruel pangs. Hail to thee, my lord; in my song I make prayer to thee!

The story runs that Koronis, daughter of King Phlegyas, while with child by Apollo, fell in love with the Arkadian Ischys; and Hesiod (op. cit., 148) says that “to him, then, came a crow as messenger from the sacred feast to most holy Pytho, and he told unshorn Phoibos of secret deeds, that Ischys, son of Elatos, had wedded Koronis, daughter of Phlegyas, of birth divine" (cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses, ii, 600 ff.). Pindar varies the tale, relating that Apollo in his omniscience was aware of the unchaste deed and sent his vengeful sister to Lakereia, where she punished the guilty Koronis and many of her friends with death. When Koronis lay on the funeral pyre, Apollo relented, seized the babe from its mother's womb, and

Away the struggling child he bare,

And bade the Pelian Centaur sage

Store its young mind with precepts rare

Disease and mortal pain to 'suage (Pyth., iii, 45-46).

And thus on the slopes of Mount Pelion, fostering Cheiron

The hero Asklepios bred;

Who first taught pain the writhing wretch to spare, Touch'd by whose healing hand the pale diseases fled (ib., 5-7).

There were variations of these legends: that because of its evil tidings Apollo cursed the crow, which from white became black (Scholion on Pyth., iii, 48); that Apollo slew Ischys; and that Hermes, at the instance of Apollo, rescued the child and carried it to Cheiron (Pausanias, II, xxvi, 6). According to another legend, Ischys, the father of Asklepios, was a Thessalian and a son of Elatos; but confused with another Ischys, son of Elatos of Arkadia. The Asklepian myths are thus an integral part of the traditions of the Thessalian tribes; and that Trikke on the Lethaios river was the birthplace of the god and the cradle of the cult is supported by Homer in his Catalogue of Ships (Il., ii, 729-732) and is emphasized by Strabo (IX, v, 17; XIV, i, 39 pp. 437, 647 C; cf. oracle in Eusebios, Præparatio Evangelica, III, xiv, 6). A Messenian tradition traces the descent through the Lapithai tribe, from Lapithie, son of Apollo and Stilbe. The Scholiast on Pindar (op. cit., iii, 14), quoting the poet Asklepiades, tells of another mother and a sister: "And Arsinoë, uniting with the son of Zeus and Leto, bare a son Asklepios, blameless and strong," while a sister was born of the same union, "Eriopis, with lovely hair."


The Epidaurian legends.

The Epidaurian legend (Pausanias, II, xxvi, 4-5) gives that sanctuary additional prestige by transferring the birth of Asklepios thither. The story told is that Koronis accompanied her father, King Phlegyas, to Argolis, and, unknown to him, with child by Apollo, gave it secret birth on the slope of Mount Tittheion, formerly Mount Myr

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