Deity: Vediovis, Aesculapius
Animal: Snakes, cockerels
Symbol: The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff which remains a symbol of medicine today.
Magic: Medicine, Healing
Family & Other Connections
Asclepius is the son of the god Apollo and the mortal Coronis, and husband to Epione. Asclepius’ daughters are Meditrina, Hygieia, Iaso, Aceso, Aglæa, and Panacea, and his sons are Machaon, Podaleirios and Telesphoros. He also sired a son, Aratus, with Aristodama.
Information & Stories
Asclepius (or “Asklepios”) means ‘to cut open’ and the name comes from the fact that Asclepius was not born but instead cut out of his mother’s womb as she was laid out on her funeral pyre. In some versions of the story she died while in labour, but in others she was slain for being unfaithful to Apollo.
Apollo gave Asclepius to the centaur Chiron who raised him and instructed him in the art of medicine. Asclepius became so skilled in this art that he was able to raise souls from the dead. This ability was to be his undoing though. In some stories Zeus was angered because Asclepius raised Hippolytus from the dead and accepted gold for it. In others Hades became worried that Asclepius’ ability would mean no more souls would go to the underworld, and so he asked Zeus to get rid of him.
As Asclepius was the son of a mortal woman, he was mortal himself and initially seen as a Greek hero, rather than a god. After his death Zeus placed him amongst the stars as the constellation Ophiochus (“the Serpent Holder”), but stories also say that Zeus resurrected Asclepius as a god in order to appease Apollo, who had been angered at the death of his son.
The ancient Greeks dedicated many healing temples (or asclepieion) to Asclepius, the most famous of which was at Epidaurus, in Peloponnese. In these temples sacred snakes were used in healing rituals and allowed to freely roam the dormitories where the patients slept.
The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods…”
The botanical genus Asclepias (or milkweed) is named after Asclepius.