Thu, 30 Nov 2000 02:51:47 -0800
> As I recall, the Greek myth had the son of one of the gods (Apollo, I think,
> although there's a pretty good chance I'm wrong) save either one, or
> a pair of young
> snakes. In return, the snakes 'cleaned' his ears, and he was able to
> understand the
> speech of the animals He managed to turn it to beneficial use by
> learning enough
> from the animals to become a great doctor. In fact, his skill was
> such that he was
> eventually able to bring people back from the dead. As a result,
> Hades (ruler of
> the underworld) complained to Zeus about this (as the dead were being
> taken from
> under Hades control back into the world of the living), and Zeus
> decided that action
> needed to be taken, and had the doctor killed.
> I believe that's where the Greek snake comes from.
That's Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing and patron deity of physicians. He
was the son of Apollo and the nymph Coronis, husband of Epione, and father of
Hygieia (health) and Panacea (all-healing). His motherm who was not only a the
nymph but also a princess of Thessaly, died when he was an infant. A deified
mortal, Aesculapius was not worshipped as a god until post-Homeric times. Homer
refers to him only as a skillful physician, and it was Apollo who was regarded
as the god of healing until that role was taken over by his son beginning in the
5th Century BC.
Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto, was associated with prophecy and medicine. He was
the chief god of healing in the Olympic Pantheon. Apollo was also known as
Alexicacus, averter of illness and other evils.
The cult of Aesculapius originated in the 4th Century BC in Thessaly, the
location of the oldest known temple honoring him, where he was said to have been
raised by the centaur Chiron, who taught him the art of healing. Shrines and
temples of healing known as Asclepieia were erected throughout Greece, with
sanctuaries at Athens, Epidauros and Kos (the birthplace of Hippocrates), where
the sick would come to worship and seek cures for their ills. Harmless serpents
were kept in these temples of healing, lovingly tended by Hygeia, the
personification of health. Snakes were held sacred by Aesclepius and he himself
was thought to sometimes appear in the form of a snake. Patients who saw snakes
in their dreams believed that the god of healing himself had come to their aid.
In 293 BC, a temple was built in Rome on an island of the Tiber, for which the
cult statue was carved by the Greek sculptor Alkamenes.
Chiron, according to Homer's The Iliad, was the wise and benevolent centaur who
tended the wounds of many heroes and taught the healing arts to both Aesculapius
and Achilles. As reward for his good works, Zeus placed Chiron in the heavens
among the stars as the constellation Sagittarius.
Hygieia, daughter of Aesculapius and sister of Panacea, was the Greek goddess of
healing and the Roman goddess of health and welfare. The Hippocratic Oath,
which is no longer used by American medical schools, begins with an invocation
to Apollo Physician, Aesculapius, Hygieia, Panacea and "the other gods and
Aesculapius, when grown, became so skilled in surgery and the use of medicinal
plants that he could even restore the dead to life. Hades, ruler of the dead,
became alarmed at this and complained to Zeus, who, fearing that he might render
all men immortal, killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt. As noted previously,
some hold that Aesculapius was later elevated to the stars as the constellation
Ophiuchus, but at least three other legendary figures are in contention for that
Aesculapius was generally depicted as a bearded man wearing a robe that leaves
his breast uncovered. His attribute is a staff with a snake coiled about it.
In Genesis, Moses held up a serpent on a staff as an example of Christ, to heal
the Jews. As noted earlier, the staff used today as a symbol of the medical
profession is actually the winged caduceus of Hermes.
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