In Ancient Greece, Asclepius was a hero and a god of medicine, healing, and doctors. His symbol is a staff -called the Caduceus wand- with a serpent wrapping it around, which is still used today as the symbol of pharmacies. The word “pharmacy” also comes from Greek, meaning medicine.
According to mythology, Asclepius’ parents were Apollo (one of the main god-figures of Ancient Greece) and either princess Coronis or princess Arsinoe. He was married to Epione, the goddess of soothing pain, and together they’ve had five daughters and three sons. One of his most famous daughters is Hygea, the goddess of health and cleanliness, where the word “hygiene” originally comes from.
Asclepius barely escaped death when he was born: his mother died during giving birth to him, and he was rescued by his father, Apollo, who first cut him out of his mother’s womb, and later took him to a centaur, -a half-human and half-horse mythical creature- to teach him the art of medicine, while growing up. Chiron, the centaur did as Apollo asked, and Asclepius grew up to be a man with such knowledge of healing and medicine, that was greater than Chiron’s or even Apollo’s.
Asclepius became so powerful, that he was able to heal all humans, including those that were dying, and he could even bring them back to life after death. People loved him and considered him a hero. Eventually, other gods noticed this too, and many of them did not like it.
Hades, the god of the Underworld was especially angry. He wanted souls entering his kingdom, but with Asclepius healing people, fewer and fewer died, with fewer and fewer souls to welcome in the Underworld. Hades decided to talk to his brother, Zeus, who was the head god, to kill Asclepius.
Apollo tried to stop Zeus, his father but did not succeed. Zeus, angry about Asclepius not asking his permission to revive the dead, killed Asclepius with a mighty thunderbolt, to teach him a lesson. After his death, Zeus took Asclepius’ body in the sky and placed it in a constellation, which is known as the “Serpent Holder” today.
Many healing temples -called “asclepeions” were built in honor of Asclepius in Ancient Greece. Some of the biggest ones operated in Trikala, Epidaurus, or on the island of Kos, where many pilgrims traveled for centuries, participating in rituals, hoping for a miraculous healing. Some of these rituals used snakes that lived in the land and were not poisonous, which later received their names from Asclepius, called Aesculapian Snakes.
Asclepius and his healing powers are also remembered by using his name for a group of plants -Asclepias, or milkweed- that were and still are used for medicinal purposes today.
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