Asclepius and Temple Medicine
The Greeks ascribe the inventions of the arts either to the children of the gods or to
certain men akin to them to whom the gods first imparted every art. Thus also the art
of medicine, they say, Asclepius first learned from Apollo his father, and transmitted
it to mankind; for this reason he is considered to be the discoverer of it. before the
time of Asclepius, the medical art did not yet exist among men, but the men of old
had some experience with herbs and drugs, such simples as among the Greeks Chiron
the Centaur knew well, and the heroes who were instructed by him, and all those
simples that are attributed to Aristaeus and Melampus and Polyidus.
Poem by Aeschines,
Despairing of human skill but with all hope in the divine,
Leaving Athens, blessed in her sons, and coming to your grove,
Asklepios, I was cured in three months of a wound
In the head that had lasted for a whole year.
For an ailing worshipper in pursuit of a cure, a bath in the sea served as the
outward symbol of the inner state prescribed at Epidauros (Porphyrius, De
"Going into the fragrant temple, one must be pure; purity is thinking holy thoughts."
Then came the offering of honey cakes at the altar. At Corinth the arrangements
suggest that in addition to a sea bath the patient made token ablutions at the eastern
water basin, proceeded to both altar and temple and then to the lustral area for proper
cleansing before entering the main hall of the abaton or inner sanctum. There the
patient lay down on a pallet on the floor, and presently an attendant put out the lights
and urged sleep and silence. Then in the patient's dream the god came with an
attendant carrying mortar, pestle and medicine chest, mixing a potion, applying a
plaster, using the knife or summoning a sacred serpent to lick the afflicted part. If the
dream was suggested by an actual priest making his rounds, the cure to which the
patient attested on waking was still a thing worthy of wonder and thankfulness. It is
from such expressions of thankfulness that there has come down to us the most vivid
evidence of the treatment undergone and the cures effected. Corinthian terracotta
..anatomical bits and pieces that were healed.
..illustrate the "case histories"
recorded at Epidauros and elsewhere. The accumulated mass of life size votive limbs
and organs found in the Asklepieion precinct amounted to some ten cubic meters and
included examples of almost all parts of the body: legs, feet, arms, hands, ears and
eyes, torsos, heads, female breasts and reproductive organs, and male genitalia.
[from: Cure and Cult in Ancient Corinth: a guide to the Asklepieion, American
School of Classical Studies at Athens (Princeton 1977)]
A literary account of a visit to Asclepius: Philostratus,
Apollonius of Tyana
Now it is well that I should not pass over what happened in the temple while relating
the life of a man [Apollonius] who was held in esteem even by the gods. For an