Asclepius was the god of medicine. He was also the patron god, and reputed ancestor, of the Asclepiads, the ancient guild of doctors.

Residence: Mount Olympus
Symbols: Serpent-entwined staff
Parents: Apollo and Coronis
Consort: Epione
Children: Hygeia, Iaso, Aceso, Aegle, Panacea, Machaon, Podalirius, Telesphorus and Aratus
Roman equivalent: Aesculapius

Asklepios - Epidauros.jpg
Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff. Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus. (c) Michael F. Mehnert

Asclepius was the son of Apollo and the Triccaean princess, Coronis. His mother died in labour and when she was laid out on the pyre, Apollo cut the unborn child from her womb. From this Asclepius received his name which means “to cut open.” Asclepius was raised by the centaur Chiron, who instructed him in the art of medicine. He grew so skilled in the craft that he was able to restore the dead to life. This was a crime against the natural order and so Zeus destroyed him with a thunderbolt.

Roman coin from Odessus showing Asclepius with Hygeia on one side and Gordian III’s portrait on the other side. (c)

This angered Apollo, who in turn killed the Cyclops, who made the thunderbolts for Zeus. For this act, Zeus banished Apollo from Olympus and commanded Apollo to serve Admetus, King of Thessaly for a year. After Asclepius’s death, Zeus placed his body among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus (“the Serpent Holder”).

Later, however, upon Apollo‘s request, Zeus resurrected Asclepius as a god and gave him a place on Olympus.

Asclepius (centre) arrives in Cos and is greeted by Hippocrates (left) and a citizen (right), mosaic, 2nd–3rd century AD. (c) Heinz Schmitz
Statue of Asclepius. Glyptotek Museum. (c) Nina Aldin Thune

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