Saturday, August 20, 2011

Apis the Egyptian brought medicine

Homeric Hymn 16 - To Asklepius

I begin to sing of the Healer of diseases Asklepius
Son of Apollo, born through Koronis, daughter of Phlegyas,
In the Dotian plain. A great joy to the mortals,
Soother of the evil pains.

Rejoice Lord, my prayer to you is my song.

Asklepius was god of medicine. His father was Apollo and his mother Koronis. One tradition relates that she died in childbirth, and Apollo took the baby from her womb. The flames of the pyre parting, allowing him to tear his dead lovers belly open. Another, more brutal, tale tells how after intercourse Koronis spurned Apollo for another. He then killed her, maybe with his hands, maybe with his bow. In both variants the child was torn from Koronis and given to the centaur Chiron to be raised. This Caesarian birth also explains the god's name which means something like 'cut from' (or then again maybe not.) The child was taught medicine, and so became a great doctor. During his adventures, Athena gave him some of the blood from the right side of the gorgon, which gave the power to raise the dead. Blood from the left side, being of course deadly.

With this power came the downfall of Asklepius. Maybe he was killed because raising the dead angered cloud-gathering Zeus, or maybe Hades fearing his kingdom would be emptied had a word to Zeus and angered up his blood. I prefer the version where he was killed for charging money for raising the dead. For the warmth and light of the sun, then plants that grow from the fields, the rivers that flood and revitalise the land, and this and more are freely given by the gods. Not, as in Christian thought, because the gods love us, but rather it shows how much more powerful the gods are than us puny mortals.

And in anger for killing his son, Phoibos Apollo killed the Cyclops who had made the murderous thunderbolt.

An Argonaut, Asklepius was married to Epione, the soother of pains, and they had six daughters.

  • Hygeia - goddess of hygiene and cleanliness
  • Meditrina - the serpent bearer (goddess of the healing power of wine in Roman times)
  • Panakeia - goddess of cures (literally all-healing)
  • Akeso - goddess of healing process
  • Iaso - goddess of recuperation
  • Aigle - whose name is Radiance.

They also had three sons.
Podalirius, Machaon who. as unsuccessful suitors of Helen were bound. As soldiers and surgeons they raised thirty ships to fight at windy Ilium.
Also Telesphorus, the possibly Celtic, dwarf whose name means bring to fulfilment.

Asklepius had a staff with one snake wrapped round it (not the staff of Hermes, the Caduceus which has two snakes, and is sometimes mistakenly used as a medical symbol), this may symbolise the 'straight' path of health, compared to the contortions caused by illness. Temples built to honour him were similar to, and very different from, modern hospitals. Snakes, sacred to Asklepius, and used in treatment, slithered the wards where opium was used to allow surgery to take place.

the pic is from