Asclepius, the god of medicine
Asclepius was originally a mortal and later became the god of medicine and healing, according to the ancient Greeks. The myth of Asclepius is connected to the origins of medical science and the healing arts. His cult was particularly popular all over Greece and people from all Meditarranean countries used to come to his temples, named Asclepieion, to be cured. Remains these temples can be seen till today. His story is pretty interesting and is actually a story of punishment.
The Birth of Hospital, Asclepius cult and Early Christianity
History of hospital is one of main fields of researches in medical history. Besides writing a history of an individual hospital, considerable efforts have been made to trace the origin of hospital. Those who quest for the origin of hospital are faced with an inevitable problem of defining hospital. As the different definition can lead to a different outcome, it is important to make a clear definition. In this article, the hospital was defined as an institution in which patients are housed and given medical treatments. According to the definition, the Great Basilius is regarded to have created the first hospital in 369 CE. The creation of hospital is considered to be closely related with Christian philantrophy. However, the question is raised against this explanation. As the religious philantrophy does not exclusively belong to the Christianity alone, more comprehensive and persuasive theory should be proposed to explain why the first hospital was created in the Christian World, not in the Buddhistic or other religious world. Furthermore, in spite of sharing the same Christian background, why the first hospital appeared in Byzantine Empire, not in Western Roman Empire, also should be explained. My argument is that Asclepius cult and the favorable attitude toward medicine in Greek world are responsible to the appearance of the first hospital in Byzantine Empire. The evangelic work of Jesus was heavily depended on healing activities. The healing activities of Jesus and his disciples were rivalled by Asclepius cult which had been widely spread and practiced in the Hellenistic world. The temples of Asclepius served as a model for hospital, for the temples were the institution exclusively reserved for the patients. The exclusive housing of patients alone in the temples of Asclepius is clearly contrasted with the other early forms of hospitals in which not only patients but also the poor, foreigners and pilgrims were housed altogether. Toward the healing god Asclepius, the Latin Church fathers and Greek Church fathers showed significant difference of attitudes. The Latin fathers were generally very critical on Asclepius while the Greek fathers were more favorable to the same healing god. This difference is also considered to be an important factor that can explain why the first hospital appeared in the Byzantine Empire.
Keywords: Asclepius Church Fathers Early Christianity Jesus Hospital.
The Cult of Asclepius
The Greek Gods had their own physician—Paeon. In fact Paeon eventually became a descriptor for ‘physician’—and the name of my medical school’s student magazine. We did not take the Hippocratic oath there (it has become somewhat passé). But had we done so we would have sworn by Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia and Panacea. The most medically prominent in this pantheon is Asclepius, who was a physician of, dare we say it, mythical proportions.
Most people are more familiar with his father, Apollo. But Apollo had such diverse attributes that one might think he suffered from multiple personality disorder. Medicine was a small and somewhat dreadful part of this god’s repertoire. His arrows, and that of his sister Artemis, were considered vectors of sudden illness. And he was sometimes known as Apollo Smintheus, ‘the mouse god’, associating him with rodents as the cause of plague.
Son of Apollo
The son of Apollo and the mortal princess Coronis, Asclepius was an heroic healer who spawned a family of mythical physicians and ‘nurses’ and a real world cult in the healing arts. But as Prometheus also discovered, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ He is mentioned in the Iliad (c750 BCE),along with two physician sons.
His remarkable healing powers were learned not from his father, Apollo, but from Chiron, a Centaur, after being rescued from his dying mother’s womb. And Athena taught Asclepius the secret of the blood of Medusa’s head—that from the left veins was poison, and that from the right could raise the dead. Zeus and Hades feared his power and agreed to punish his hubris, and thus Asclepius died of a bolt from the blue—from Zeus.
Asclepius’s legacy of healing continued on in his family. Two sons were physicians, one, the dwarf, a nurse-like figure, as were all of his five daughters, including Hygieia and Panacea, names that resonant in modern medicine as hygiene and, well, panacea.
Cult of Healing
But his real-world legacy endured as hero worship and a cult of healing spread out from Thessaly in Greece. In Epidaurus, supplicants slept in temples (Asclepeions), awaiting the cures that might come during dreaming. By 300 BCE medical practice in his name and honor was also established in Pergamum and Rome by the ‘Therapeutae of Asclepius’. The Roman spelling is ‘Aesculapius’. Famous followers included Hippocrates and Galen.
The true symbol of medicine in Western culture is not the Caduceus, as often misappropriated, but the rod of Asclepius, which has one snake entwined, not two. It derives from the story of a kindness shown by asclepius to a serpent (the Aesculapian snake or Zamensis longissimus). In return, the snake revealed secret knowledge. The Caduceus, on the other hand, is the traditional symbol of Hermes and was mistakenly adopted by the US Military in the 1800s. But that's a ‘whole–nother’ story.
These days we can show our reverence for the devotion to healing embodied in the mythical Asclepius either by looking him up in the historical record—or to the heavens. Zeus, out of regret or respect, placed his body in the constellation Ophiuchus: ‘The Serpent Holder’.
Asclepius: The Greek God of Healing and Medicine
Asclepius is a renowned figure in Greek mythology and his symbol (a staff with a snake wrapped around it) is still used in modern medicine.
One of the most fascinating elements of the story about Asclepius is the fact that he might have been an actual historical figure. According to the National Library of Medicine, although Asclepius is generally memorialized as a god, there is evidence which indicates that he might have been a real person who was not deified until later. Regardless of whether he existed or not, however, the bulk of the information that is available regarding Asclepius relates to the stories that are part of the vast web of Greek myth.
The Legend of Asclepius’ Birth
According to legend, Asclepius was the son of the Greek god Apollo and the mortal lake nymph named Coronis. While some nymphs are immortal, the sub-set to which Coronis belonged was not. As the story goes, Coronis took a mortal lover in secret and committed adultery against Apollo.
Out of anger, Apollo commanded his sister, Artemis, to kill Coronis (although some myths say that Apollo killed Coronis himself). As Coronis’ body burned on the funeral pyre, Apollo felt pity for his unborn son and rescued him from his mother’s corpse.
And, thus, this child was given the name “Asklepios” which is Greek for “to cut open.” After his birth, Apollo placed him in the care of Chiron, the leader of the centaurs (half-man and half-horse mythical creatures), who had also helped to raise the famous Greek warrior Achilles.
Under Chiron’s care, Asclepius refined his trade and discovered many of the secrets of medicine and healing. Some versions of the story say that the goddess Athena blessed him with a gift: two vials of blood from Medusa. Medusa was a Gorgon, a monstrous female creature, who had been cursed by Athena and made to be so ugly that whoever looked at her would turn to stone.
Medusa was the only mortal of the three Gorgons and her hair was made of writhing snakes. The blood from Medusa was said to have two purposes: if taken from the left side of the head, it was a deadly poison. If it was taken from the right side, however, it was able to bring the dead back to life.
With the blood of the Gorgon, Asclepius was able to surpass the knowledge and power of all other healers. He was said to have tested his power on Hippolytus, who died as a result of the lies of his mother and ignorance of his father. Hippolytus’ step-mother fell in love with him, and when he rejected her advances, she convinced Hippolytus’ father (Theseus) that Hippolytus had raped her.
Theseus thus cursed Hippolytus, and he was dragged to his death by his horses when they were spooked. After Asclepius had revived Hippolytus, the most powerful god in the Pantheon, Zeus, began to grow concerned about Asclepius’ developing power.
Zeus feared that Asclepius would begin restoring the lives of those who had passed and would close the gap between the mortals and gods. As a result, Zeus struck Asclepius down with a thunderbolt and killed him. Apollo was so angry at the death of his child that he sought revenge by killing the Cyclops who had fashioned the thunderbolt. Ultimately, Zeus made Asclepius immortal (some sources say that this action was at Apollo’s request) and he was placed among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus, the “Serpent Bearer.”
Modern Implications of the Story of Ascelpius
The story of Asclepius continues to be told today, and it has far-ranging effects from the field of medicine to the field of astronomy. One of the most noticeable impacts is in the field of medicine. There are two symbols of medicine that are widely known in the world today: the Caduceus of Hermes and the rod of Asclepius.
Although the Caduceus is generally more widely seen in North American medicine, the rod of Asclepius, which is a staff that features a single snake wrapped around it, is a worldwide symbol of medicine. The snake is thought to have been used as a symbol of renewal and restoration, since snakes are able to slough their old skin and begin anew. As such, the rod of Asclepius has a prominent place in global medicine and is featured in the logo of the World Health Organization.
In addition to the impact on medicine, the story of Asclepius has also been highlighted in the field of astronomy. In January 2011, Professor Parke Kunkle from the Minneapolis Community and Technical College sparked controversy when he indicated that the modern zodiac chart has neglected a thirteenth sign: Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. As such, the story of Asclepius is once again in the news as interested readers and dedicated astrology fans clamber to find out if their astrological sign has changed.
The fascination with the story of Asclepius has existed for hundreds of years and, especially given the modern implications of his life and death, it seems that this story will continue to be told for hundreds of years to come.
…And so I drew my own adaptation!
Below, you can see some of the work in progress. I will explain some of the choices I made in my version.
I went with the winged disc at the top of the pole to reiterate the solar connection. This was meant to particularly reference Egypt.
The snake is loosely modeled after a python.
Inking was completed with a Micron pen. Actually, that’s not true. This drawing took up about five Micron pens…
Well, after digging through some history and some of my own hogwash, here I am in a very comfortable shirt. Sign up for my newsletter and get yours for 10% OFF!
The Pool Of Bethesda As A Healing Center Of Asclepius
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
When it comes to determining the level of the gospel’s historical reliability, the story that will end in the healing of a paralyzed man is one of the most fascinating textual units in the Gospel of John. Until the discovery of the pool with five-roofed colonnades near the Sheep Gate (although everyone was looking for a pentagon shaped pool at first), many did not consider the Gospel of John to be historically reliable. The gospel was thought to be either allegorical (truthful only in the sense similar to apocalyptic literature) or simply inaccurate (written by someone who was not from Judea and was wholly unfamiliar with Jerusalem’s geography and topography). However, both pools mentioned in the Gospel of John were identified – the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:2 and the Pool of Siloam in John 9:7. The pool mentioned in this chapter turned out to have five colonnades (as described in the Gospel), but it was not structured as a pentagon. There were four colonnades separated in the middle by another one, thus forming the five colonnades just as the Gospel described.
It is of possible that the pool of Bethesda was a Jewish religious ceremonial water cleansing facility, mikvah, associated with the Jerusalem Temple. But there are other interpretive options as well that to my mind make a lot more sense.
There are many good reasons to believe that this structure situated walking distance from the back then walls of the city of Jerusalem was a healing center dedicated to Greco-Roman god of well-being and health – Asclepius. Devotionl to Asclepius was well spread through the lands dominated by Roman Empire. There were more than 400 asclepeions (Asclepius-related facilities throughout empire), functioning as healing centers and dispensers of the god’s grace and mercy towards those in need).
Asclepius was the god of medicine and health in ancient Greek religion. The god’s mythical daughters, for example, included the goddesses Hygeia and Panacea. We can hear in their Greek names our modern words for “hygiene” and “panacea” – key concepts associated today with medicine and health. Snakes were a key attribute of Asclepius’s cult of health and healing. Even today, one of the key symbols of modern medicine is a stick with a snake around it.
Now stop and think for a moment. If this is correct, it may change our perception of the entire story described here. You see it is possible that the blind, lame, and paralyzed were not waiting for Israel’s God to heal them but rather for the merciful healing act of Asclepius. Before you begin to think that the above reconstruction is farfetched, please, consider the following:
Second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions popular obsession with Asclepius among his contemporaries saying: “When the Devil brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ? (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, 69). In a statement attributed to the second century Jewish Sage Rabbi Akiva we read: “Once Akiva was asked to explain why persons afflicted with disease sometimes returned cured from a pilgrimage to the shrine of an idol, though it was surely powerless. (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 55a).”
Pool of Bethesda/Asclepion (Jerusalem branch) was, probably, a part of Hellenization of Jerusalem along with several other important projects such as Roman theater, Roman sports complex, Roman baths and Roman fortress Antonia (near the pool). It is probably referring to such Hellenization of Jerusalem that Qumranites devotees, authoring their commentary on Prophet Nahum wrote: “Where is the lion’s den, the cave of the young lions? (Nah.2:12b) The interpretation of this concerns Jerusalem, which had become a dwelling for the wicked ones of the Gentiles… (4QpNah).”
In that case, the pool of Bethesda (house of mercy in Hebrew) does not have to be a Jewish site at all, but rather a Greek Asclepion-affiliated facility. It is very important to notice that in this particular healing Jesus does not command the one he healed to wash himself in the pool (pool of Bethesda), while he does issue a direct command to go and wash at the pool of Siloam when it comes to the healing of the blind man (John 9:6-7). It therefore appears that while the pool of Bethesda was a pagan place (Asclepion), while the pool of Siloam was connected with Jerusalem Temple. Of course, Jerusalem was the center for religious Jews in Jesus’ days, but it was also a headquarters for Hellenized ideals in Judea which was under strict Roman control with the Antonia Fortress dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.
[… waiting for the moving of the waters 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
While in the brackets some modern Bibles still include the above text (3b-4) it is not contained in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts available to us today and, therefore, should not be treated as authentic. It seems that the Christian copyist unfamiliar with cult of Asclepius and the Pool of Bethesda’s affiliation with it, added on the explanation about the Angel of the Lord stirring up the waters, seeking to clarify things for his readers. In all reality he ended up sending all following generations of readers in the wrong interpretive direction, missing the whole point of the story.
/>Contrary to popular opinion, ancient scribes were not always accurate in preserving every jot and tittle of the text they were copying. They did not embellish things, but certainly were not afraid “to clarify issues,” when they thought “something was missing.” Hence the new character in this story, the angel of Israel’s God, was added by the well-meaning, but misguided copyist. The copyist, unlike the author of John’s Gospel, was not aware of the Greek religious identity of Bethesda, which sounded to him just from the text he had before him, without any evidence of contemporary material culture, as the house of mercy of Israel’s God. He was simply mistaken.
5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
The sick people who were often seen on the porches of the pool of Bethesda were made up of two types. Those who came in to try their luck here as part of the quest for healing on the way, as it were, to another promising healing solution and those who had already given up all hope for any kind of healing. In response to Jesus’ question about whether or not he wished to get well, we read an answer that was anything but hopeful. In the words of the sick man “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” (vs. 7) The stirring up of the water was likely happening when the priests of the Asclepius cult, would open the connecting pipes between the higher and the lower portions of the pool of Bethesda. The water in the upper reservoir would then flow into the lower one.
The “institutionalized” man was there for a long time as the Gospel tells us in the context of a deeply religious albeit Greek religious environment. He was a man with a significant personal need and with all his hope gone. Asclepius in Greek methodology was also known not only for his healing and life-giving powers, but for this attitude of benevolence for the people, which made him of the most popular divinities in the Greco-Roman world. Later in the story Jesus would meet the man he healed in the Israel’s Temple and will warn him not to continue in his life of sin (something that fits perfectly with the idea that the Pool of Bethesda was Asclepion).
This is a powerful story. Sickness – the symbol of human chaos was called into order by the power of Jesus’ word, just like the pre-creation chaos was once called by Israel’s Heavenly King into the order of creation in exactly the same way. Now the royal son of Israel’s King came into the pagan abode (asclepeion) and healed the Jewish man without any magical formulas and spells. Jesus did so simply by telling the man to get up and walk. In other words, Jesus healed the man the same way Israel’s God once created the world – simply by the power of His spoken word.
The Healing Temples of the God Asclepius
“Pure must be he who enters the fragrant temple”
The healing temples of the God Asclepius in ancient Crete and Greece were some of the most famous medical treatment centers (hospitals) ever built in the old world. They were the first sacred structures constructed specifically for the purpose of medical care. These healing temples were named after the Greek God of wisdom, medicine, healing, rejuvenation and physicians, known as ‘Asclepius’.
Asclepius was the most important healer god of antiquity who brought prosperity to the ancient Greeks and Cretans in the 5th-1st centuries BC. These ancient physicians who served in these temples were also some of the first organized world wide priesthood who traveled the world in order to work for kings, and also themselves because their medical skills were in extreme demand.
They were a hereditary priesthood who at first only admitted family into the medical Brotherhood, and were known by various names throughout history such as the Sons of Asclepius or the Asklepiadi, Koans (Kohen or Kohanim) of Kos, Centaurs, (koan-taurs), the Curetes, and Telchines to name a few. Later in the West, such as in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Britain, they would be known as the Druids and Culdees.
This ancient priesthood and family had used one of the most famous and recognizable exoteric (outer or seen) symbols ever known to man. It is the serpent whose evidence can be witnessed all over the world to this very day, such as the many serpents and dragons carved into immortal stone in various parts of the globe, and also the serpent (worm) entwined around a staff or rod called the Staff or Rod of Asclepius (Esculapius) of the modern-day medical profession.
In my previous article, The Rod of Asclepius, I explained how this symbol of the serpent is the exoteric symbol that in reality represented the worm which is the true esoteric (inner or hidden) meaning. It is an ancient emblem of healing power that is still used today. These priests and various splinter groups from the same priestly tree would later be known by various serpentary names throughout history, and in mythology such as the Sons of the Serpent, Ophites, Hivites and Levites.
This is why many of these healing temples had many non-poisoness snakes that were allowed to slither around the floors. To the patients, these snakes were used to make an impression on their minds that they were in the temple of the God Asclepius, who’s embodiment was the exoteric symbol of the serpent and to the resident initiate priests, it was a reminder of the root cause of many of the illnesses and diseases they treated which are the result of worms.
Since the rule of law was in effect and also the rule of money, these centers had to charge for their medical services just like is done today. In order to fund their commercial medical enterprises, once patients had arrived at these healing temples, they would have to offer up a sacrifice in the form of an animal that was also enjoyed as food, and afterwards they would be charged a healing fee that was then deposited with the temple priests.
By keeping these teachings private, this priesthood were able to amass a larger fortune and also control the market for medical care as the world’s first and only trained physicians. They would also become bankers as a result of their wealth and royal connections, who then became very powerful under the protection of the Romans after they were absorbed into the Roman Empire and given special freeman and tax free status in the Republic. From this point forward, medical care and healing went from being a family affair and being practiced by almost all families of slaves and elite alike, to eventually become a completely controlled industry ruled by commerce, governments, and kings.
RELIGION AND HEALING
To the ancients, religion and healing were essentially one and the same. A priest was not only considered a holy man, he was also a healer who was professionally trained in the medical arts, and these temples were considered sacred for many centuries. In fact, when they were later destroyed under the Romans in the 1st century BC and the Goths from the North in the 4th century AD, these healing centers then became the first ancient churches controlled by the powers of the church.
There were many healing temples that were built during the time the Greeks had ruled in the Mediterranean. Two of the most important would be the first healing center built and located on mainland Greece at the city of Epidaurus in the 6th century BC, and also the dragon (serpent or worm) shaped island 7 miles across from Crete that was once called Kos (Ceus or Cos), and now called Dia where the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates (Greek: Ἱπποκράτης Hippokrátēs c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC) was born, and also where he had operated his world-famous Hippocrates’ School of Medicine.
The asclepeion at Epidaurus was the most celebrated healing center of all the Classical world because it was the first of its kind, and also the place where many ill people had travelled to with the hopes of being cured. Like all the other temples, it was built from huge blocks of Corinthian limestone. Paulus Emilius, who visited the sanctuary in 167 B.C., commented on how impressed he was by the buildings of Epidaurus.
Clement of Alexandria had said that patients who came to the healing center were greeted with a solemn warning which was inscribed over the entrance of the temple: “Pure must be he who enters the fragrant temple,” and purity, Clement adds, “is to think holy things.”
Some of the treatments at these ancient holy centers would resemble what is done today in alternative and self-healing teachings. The ancient inscription above on the temple is widely known today in science and medicine, that our thoughts, attitude and habits directly affect our health or our ability to get well. I like to simply call this alchemy of the human blood, by using your brain to control your emotions, thoughts and habits.
In science, this is called today mind-body medicine. Hippocrates once wrote, “The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.” This ancient art of healing was the preferred method in the ancient world, and today is very popular in Asiatic cultures such as with the Chinese who many healers and patients have claimed have great success in curing disease and healing sickness.
Here in the West, such in America we have began to go back to the old ways of our ancestors which can be proved by science. For example, a clinical study by David Spiegel, M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine in 1989 had proved the power of the mind and its ability to heal. In the study, two groups of women were divided from 86 women who were all diagnosed with late stage breast cancer. Half of the women were given standard modern medical treatment, while the other half received the same care, but were also given weekly support sessions with other women with cancer in order to share both their stories of grief, and also their victories. Dr. Spiegel discovered that the women in the latter group who participated in the social support session with other women had lived twice as long as the women who did not. In 1999, a similar study proved that in breast cancer patients, helplessness and hopelessness are associated with lesser chance of survival.
As a result of these studies and ancient teachings, more modern-day self-healing centers are being created such as the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, and the Health Care Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to name a couple.
WHAT TYPE OF ILLNESSES AND INJURIES DID THE PRIEST PHYSICIANS TREAT IN THESE HEALING TEMPLES?
Many of the patients back then suffered from worms and parasitic illnesses just like they do today. Two tablets were found at the temple in Epidaurus that were dated to the second half of the fourth century, describing the various ailments and diseases they had encountered along with the cures. The inscriptions tell how the god is represented as tackling and curing an extraordinary variety of ailments a total of 198 ranging from headaches and insomnia, to cases of stone, worms, gout, dropsy, tumours, blindness, and injuries from wounds.
Here is an ancient story about a lady who was thought to be pregnant. Later the physicians determined she was in fact pregnant, but with worms!
Sostrata, a woman of Pherai, was said to have a false pregnancy because she wasn’t pregnant with a child, but with worms. She went to Epidauros and slept there, but having had no clear dream she let herself be carried home. On the way a ‘man of fine appearance’ came to her, cut her open and took out the worms. She went to sleep in the temple of Asclepius at Troezen, and it seemed to her that the sons of the god— who was too much engaged to come himself — cut off her head, plunged their hands into her intestines, and pulled out the worm.
In order for the priest physicians to find out the right cure for their ailments, they had their patients spend a night in the enkoimeteria, a big sanctuary, guest house and sleeping hall with 160 patient rooms that was all made of holy limestone. It was said that in their dreams, the god himself would advise them what they had to do to regain their health. The first people the patients would see after their first night of dreams in the temple of God would be the Sons of the God Asclepius, their priest physicians. This would leave lasting impressions on their clientele’s minds, that I’m sure assisted in the healing process by maintaining positive images with positive energy.
THE ADVENT OF HOLY HEALING WATER
There are also limestone mineral springs in the vicinity of these temples which would have also been used in the healing process. Before they were admitted into the temple, they would then be taken to special mineral springs hot baths situated on limestone nearby that were not only to clean themselves, but purify their bodies by the special healing water in these springs called today, ‘Travertine’ which is a form healing water. Modern travertine is formed from geothermally heated supersaturated alkaline waters, with raised pCO2 (see partial pressure). On emergence, waters degas CO2 due to the lower atmospheric pCO2, resulting in an increase in pH.
Most of the locations these temples were located had heavy deposits of limestone or were near limestone quarries. This was not only the most popular building material for the ancient Greeks, Cretans and Egyptians, it was also one of the most venerated stones for its healing properties.
The mineral hot springs of limestone deposited by the mineral springs are naturally occurring springs that produce water containing helpful minerals such as Calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2 which is also called limewater. It had been known since ancient times that limestone was a magical stone with natural healing abilities, and the stone impregnated water known today as limewater kills worms, and many other, if not all insects. It is regarded as the most simple and one of the safest chemical vermifuge. Physicians had used it for thousands of years up until the advent of the current medical system in the last 100 years or less.
In Russian folklore, a serpent is often represented as in possession of a magic water, which is said to heal all wounds, restore sight to the blind, and vigour to the cripple. For example, one Russian story of the serpent with healing water ” speaks of a wondrous garden, in which are two springs of healing and vivifying water, and around that garden is coiled like a ring a mighty serpent ” (Ralston, Russian Folk Tales, p. 233) “ The Arabs had regarded medicinal waters that were said to be inhabited by the jinn, usually of serpent form” (W. Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites,2 p. 168). The stories of the Celts had said they acquired their medical skills by drinking serpent-broth.
This may in fact be the true origins of the source of “holy water.”
This healing cult with their sacred stones, serpents and holy water would later spread in the 4th century BC to other areas in the Mediterranean such as Crete and the island 7 miles across from Crete once called Kos, and now known as Dia. Pliny had written Hippocrates learned medicine by writing down the successful cures that had been recorded by patients on the walls of Asklepios’s Kohen (Koan) temple. A person who comes from the island Kos (Coos) is called a Koan in English, and a Cohen or Kohen (or Kohain Hebrew: כֹּהֵן, “priest”, pl. כֹּהֲנִים Kohanim) which is simply the Hebrew word for priest.
These priests would be known in the bible as the Levites of the Tribe of Levi who the Father of English History and Doctor of the Church, Saint Bede had said, “allegorically, the Levites represent those attached to the Catholic Church.” (Bede – 9th century book titled, Ezra and Nehemiah) The name Levite is from root in Hebrew which means “to join, or to bind” (see Lui-than “snaky-monster “).
The Levites were the first tribe drawn from all these divisions of the Israelites to aid in the repair of the temple, making them the first Templars.
The Myth of Asclepius
Asclepius is the son of the god Apollo and a nymph, Coronis. Apollo is known as the god of prophecy, healing, and truth.
The story goes that when Coronis was pregnant with Asclepius, she took a second lover who was a mortal. Once Apollo learned of this, he sent Artemis to murder her. As she was burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo felt sorry for the child in her womb and rescued him from her corpse. The wise centaur, Cheiron taught the child all about medicine and healing.
In time, Asclepius became so skilled in the area of healing and medicine that he was able to bring a patient back from the dead.
The king of the gods, Zeus, felt that their immorality was being threatened by this, so he struck Asclepius down with a thunderbolt. Apollo requested that Asclepius be placed amid the stars as the serpent-bearer, Ophiuchus.
Homer mentions Asclepius in the Iliad as the father of two Greek doctors and a skilled physician. Later though, he was honored as a hero and worshipped as a god.
The Cult of Asclepius was started in Thessaly, however, it eventually spread to many areas of Greece. Since people believed Asclepius cured the sick in dreams, it became quite common in South Greece for people to sleep in his temples. His cult spread to Rome in 293 B.C.
Frequently, Asclepius has been shown standing and wearing a long cloak, baring his breast. Typically, the symbol most commonly associated with him was a serpent wrapped around a staff, which became a symbol of medicine.
On a side note, the counterpart of Asclepius in Roman mythology was the god of healing, Vediovis. He is typically shown as a young man with a handful of arrows and lighting bolts with a goat at his side. The Romans held the belief that Vediovis was one of the firstborn gods.
Rod of Asclepius Symbol
The Rod of Asclepius (or Staff of Asclepius) is an ancient Greek symbol that has become an internationally recognized symbol of medicine. It depicts a serpent entwined around a staff that is traditionally a knotty tree limb. The symbol is associated with the Greek demigod, Asclepius who was renowned for his unsurpassed medical prowess and healing powers. According to myths, he got his medical knowledge through the whispering of snakes that have the ability to periodically shedding their skin and emerging bigger, healthier and shinier than before.
The Rod of Asclepius is a befitting representation of the physician’s art of healing because of its combination of the staff, which is symbolic of authority and the snake, which denotes rebirth, fertility, revitalization, and rejuvenation. Moreover, snake venom has been found to be fatally poisonous and, at the same time, have medicinal properties. Therefore, the serpent is also seen as symbolic of the dual nature of a physician’s work that involved sickness & health, life & death. It even signifies the dual powers of medicine – the dosage and the situation determine if it will heal or harm. The symbol was displayed at the Temples of Asclepius that became popular healing centers of the Greco-Roman world. Later on, it came to be adopted by doctors all over the world.
Some scholars assert that the Rod of Asclepius actually represents a parasitic worm coiled around a stick. In the ancient times, people used to be commonly infected by parasitic worms like the guinea worm. The physicians treated them by piercing the skin and extracting the worms underneath by wrapping them on a rod or stick. The physicians are believed to have advertised this service by putting up the sign of a worm on a stick.
Whatever the origin of the Rod of Asclepius may have been, it remains a dominant global symbol of healthcare, healing, and medicine.