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Statue of Asclepius from Cos

Statue of Asclepius from Cos



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Asclepius

Asclepius ( / æ s ˈ k l iː p i ə s / Greek: Ἀσκληπιός Asklēpiós [asklɛːpiós] Latin: Aesculapius) or Hepius [1] is a hero and god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. He is the son of Apollo and Coronis, or Arsinoe, or of Apollo alone. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts his daughters are Hygieia ("Hygiene", the goddess of cleanliness), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aegle (the goddess of good health), Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). He has several sons as well. He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis and the Egyptian Imhotep. [2] He shared with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer"). [3] The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, (similar to the caduceus) remains a symbol of medicine today. Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius.


Contents

One notable reference regarding Hygieia's role as a goddess of health can be found within the Hippocratic oath. This oath is used by physicians in order to swear before various healing gods, one of which being Hygieia, that they would follow a code of established ethical standards of practice.

Section of the translated oath from Greek to English:

“I swear by Apollo Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.” [4]

The worship of Hygieia was closely associated with the cult of Asclepius. While Asclepius was more directly associated with healing, she was associated with the prevention of sickness and the continuation of good health. In the second century CE, the famous traveler Pausanias provided an account based on what he witnessed within the state of Greece. [5] In his encyclopedic text Description of Greece, written circa 160 CE to 174 CE, Pausanias described encountering statues of Asclepius and Hygieia, located at Tegea. [6]

In addition to statues which represent the two figures, the incorporation of Hygieia within the cult of Asclepius can also be seen in medical iconography on numerous ancient Graeco-Roman coins. The close association between Hygieia and Asclepius indicates the important place she held in the cult of Asclepius. [7]

Hygieia's primary temples were in Epidaurus, Corinth, Cos and Pergamon. At the Asclepeion of Titane in Sicyon (founded by Alexanor, Asclepius' grandson), the Greek historian Pausanias remarked that a statue of Hygieia was covered by women's hair and pieces of Babylonian clothes. [8] According to inscriptions, similar sacrifices such as this were offered at Paros. [9]

Hygieia was also associated with the Greek goddess Athena. In the 2nd century AD, Pausanias noted statues both of Hygieia and of Athena Hygieia near the entrance to the Acropolis of Athens. [10] "Athena Hygieia" was one of the cult titles given to Athena, as Plutarch recounts of the building of the Parthenon (447–432 BC):

A strange accident happened in the course of building, which showed that the goddess was not averse to the work, but was aiding and co-operating to bring it to perfection. One of the artificers, the quickest and the handiest workman among them all, with a slip of his foot fell down from a great height, and lay in a miserable condition, the physicians having no hope of his recovery. When Pericles was in distress about this, the goddess [Athena] appeared to him at night in a dream, and ordered a course of treatment, which he applied, and in a short time and with great ease cured the man. And upon this occasion it was that he set up a brass statue of Athena Hygieia, in the citadel near the altar, which they say was there before. But it was Phidias who wrought the goddess's image in gold, and he has his name inscribed on the pedestal as the workman of it. [11]

However, the cult of Hygieia as an independent goddess did not begin to spread until the Delphic oracle recognized her, after the devastating Plague of Athens (430–427 BC) and in Rome in 293 BC.

The poet Ariphron, from the Greek city-state Sicyon, wrote a well-known hymn during the 4th century BC which celebrated Hygieia. [13] Statues of Hygieia were created by Scopas, Bryaxis and Timotheus, among others, but there is no clear description of what they looked like. In the surviving depictions, she is often shown as a young woman feeding a large snake that was wrapped around her body or drinking from a jar that she carried. [14] These attributes were later adopted by the Gallo-Roman healing goddess, Sirona.

Hygieia was modified by the Romans into the goddess Valetudo, the goddess of personal health. There exists some debate about whether Hygieia can also be identified with the Roman goddess of social welfare, Salus however, this has yet to be fully substantiated.


The Hippocrates Code

It was a common practice, when cured of an illness affecting a particular part of the body, to dedicate a picture or carving of that body-part to the deity deemed responsible for the cure. An inscription beneath a representation of two ears in the temple of Aesculapius at Epidaurus reads ‘Long ago, Cutius Gallus had vowed these ears to you, son of Apollo, and he placed them here when his ears were cured’ (Corpus of Latin Inscriptions 3.7266). Temples became so congested with such dedications that earlier offerings had to be removed to make room for fresh ones. This custom was not confined to the Romans and Greeks. The Old Testament gives evidence of a slightly different practice: after the Philistines had stolen the Ark of the Covenant, ‘the hand of the Lord was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts’ … The priests and diviners of the Philistines determined that they would gain relief only if they returned the Ark with a trespass offering of ‘five golden emerods and five golden mice’ (First Samuel 5.9, 6.4). [The Philistines were suffering not only from haemorrhoids but also from a plague of mice.]

To the god Men, and to his power. Prepousa, freedwoman of the priestess, prayed on behalf of her son that, if he were restored to health without her having to pay doctors, she would set up an inscription in thanksgiving. Her prayer was answered, but she did not pay the tribute. Now the god has demanded payment, and has punished her father, Philemon. So she is paying for the answer to her prayer, and will praise the god from now on (Epigraphica Anatolica [1989] 42).

Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, thought fit to accompany his thefts from temples with witty remarks. … When he ordered the golden beard to be detached from the statue of Asclepius at Epidaurus, he declared that it was not appropriate for Asclepius to have a beard, given that his father, Apollo, was beardless (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 1.1 ext. 3).

Snakes are sacred to Asclepius. … It is natural that Asclepius should have snakes as his attendants: since snakes slough off their old skin, they always look young, and likewise the god makes sick people look young when he casts away their illnesses like a snake-skin (Scholiast to Aristophanes, Wealth 773).

The tragedians and the lyric poet Pindar say that Asclepius was the son of Apollo, and also that he was killed by a thunderbolt because he was bribed with gold to cure a rich man who was already on the point of dying. But I cannot believe both these statements, for, if he was the son of a god, he was not money-grubbing, and if he was money-grubbing, he was not the son of a god (Plato, Republic 407e).

The tragedian Aristarchus of Tegea contracted a disease. Asclepius cured him, and ordered him to make a thank-offering in return for his health. So the poet granted Asclepius the drama that is named after him. But gods would never demand nor accept payment for granting health. How could that be? After all, with a kind and thoughtful love for humans, they provide us free of charge with the greatest blessings [… sunlight, water, fire, air …] (Aelian, frg. 101). Aristarchus was a celebrated poet, competing against Sophocles and Euripides, and possibly also Aeschylus, in the great Athenian drama festivals.

Because it was such a bother to provide their sick and worn out slaves with medical treatment, some people were in the habit of abandoning them on the island of Asculapius. Claudius decreed that all such slaves were free, and were not to be returned to their owner. Anyone who chose to kill his sick slaves rather than abandon them was liable to a charge of murder (Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25).

In the temple of Asclepius illnesses are cured by means of divinely inspired dreams. The art of medicine was established from these sacred dreams, through observation of the order of the nighttime epiphanies (Iamblichus, On The Mysteries 3.3).

Cleinatas from Thebes, who had lice. This man came with a vast quantity of lice on his body. He slept in the shrine and saw a vision. The god seemed to take his clothes off and make him stand up naked, and then to sweep the lice off his body with a broom. In the morning he left the inner shrine cured (Epidaurus Inscriptions, Stele B 8).

Anticrates of Cnidus, eyes. This man was stabbed by a spear through both eyes in a battle. He was blinded and went about with the spear point in his face. Sleeping here, he saw a vision. The god seemed to extract the missile and to fit the so-called “girls” [i.e., pupils] into his eyes again. In the morning he left the shrine cured (Epidaurus Inscriptions, Stele B 12).

The temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus was in ruins, It had originally been built by a private individual called Phalysius. When he had an eye disease and was almost blind, the god at Epidaurus sent the poetess Anyte to him with a sealed writing tablet. Anyte thought she had been dreaming, but it was immediately clear that it was a waking vision, for she found the sealed tablet in her hands. She sailed to Naupactus and told Phalysius to remove the seal and read what was written on the tablet. With his eyes suffering as they were, Phalysius did not think he could see the writing, but in the hope of deriving at least some benefit from Asclepius he removed the seal. When he looked at the wax, he was cured and he gave Anyte what was written on the tablet, two thousand staters of gold (Pausanias, Guide to Greece 10.38).

Apelles’s painting of Aphrodite Emerging from the Sea [now lost, but the original inspiration for Botticelli’s Birth of Venus] used to be in the temple of Asclepius on the island of Cos, but it is now in the temple of Divine Caesar in Rome, for Augustus dedicated to him the founding ancestress of his family. [The Julian clan claimed descent from Venus.] It is said that the people of Cos received a substantial remission on their taxes in return for the painting. It is also said that Hippocrates developed his system of dietetics mostly by reading accounts of cures recorded on tablets dedicated in that temple (Strabo, Geography 14.2.19).

Not far from the river at Samicum in Elis there is a cave, called the cave of the nymphs. It is the custom that any leper who enters the cave should first pray to the nymphs and promise them a sacrifice. Then he wipes the parts of his body that are affected by the disease and swims across the river. He leaves his unsightly affliction in the water, and emerges healthy and with his skin all the same color (Pausanias, Guide to Greece 5.5).

Aristophanes makes fun of the incubation-cure at Wealth 667ff., where a slave reports events in Asclepius’s temple when the blind god Wealth is brought there to have his sight restored: “There were many people in the temple, with all sorts of afflictions. The god’s attendant extinguished the lamps and told us to go to sleep. He said that, if anyone heard a noise, he was to keep quiet. We all lay down nicely, but I couldn’t sleep, for I was being tortured by the thought of a pot of porridge that was lying very close to the little old woman’s head. I was awfully keen to creep over and get it. So I looked up, and saw the priest snatching the cookies and dried figs from the holy table. Then he went round all the altars, to check whether any cakes were left, and any he found he sanctified into a sack. I thought this was a fine and holy way to act, so I stood up and headed for the pot of porridge.”

The Scythians believe that sexual dysfunction is imposed on them by the gods. It is an affliction suffered by the rich, not by the poor. The upper classes are affected because of their horseriding, but the poor suffer less because they do not ride. But, if impotence really is more heavensent than other illnesses, it should not fall on the noblest and richest Scythians, but on everyone indiscriminately or rather, on the poor and obscure, if indeed the gods take pleasure in mankind’s adoration of them and repay it with kindnesses. After all, the rich presumably make frequent sacrifice to the gods, and dedicate votive offerings to them, and worship them. The poor, lacking resources, do this less often, and indeed criticize the gods for not giving them money (Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, and Places 22).

Frail, suffering mankind, only too aware of its weakness, … has distinguished so many gods – in our anxiety to placate them, even diseases and various types of plague have been deified. That is why there is actually a shrine to Fever on the Palatine, dedicated at public expense (Pliny, Natural History 2.15).

We who are bald have more than our fair share of health. The statues of Asclepius seem to hint at this, since they are without hair in the Egyptian manner. Perhaps there is a lesson here for us all, the most beneficial medical advice we could hope for, for it seems almost to say that anyone who wants to be healthy should imitate the founder and champion of medicine [by having his head shaved] (Synesius, In Praise of Baldness 12).


Pergamos

Ruins of the temple of Trajan at Pergamos. Roman citizens had to offer incense to the emperor once each year, for which they were given a certificate showing they had complied with their civic duty. This temple was one place where this could be accomplished (photo by Joel Meeker).

As previously noted in this series of articles, the apostle John recorded in the book of Revelation a vision he received from Jesus Christ at the end of the first century. This vision included messages to seven congregations of the Church of God in Asia Minor. The church of Pergamos was one of these congregations (Revelation 1:11).

In this article we will consider the history of the city of Pergamos at the time the message was delivered and during subsequent centuries, the message Christ sent to them and the message&rsquos significance for us today.

History of Pergamos

Founded by Greek colonists several centuries before the time of Christ, the city of Pergamos was located in the Caicus valley, approximately 50 miles north of Smyrna and about 15 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Even though it was unable to rival Ephesus and Smyrna in terms of travel and commerce, it excelled in other areas.

Pergamos served as the capital city of the Greek dynasty of Attalid kings. &ldquoEumenes II (197-159 B.C.) was the most illustrious king of the dynasty, and during his reign the city reached its greatest height. Art and literature were encouraged, and in the city was a library of 200,000 volumes (which later Antony gave to Cleopatra).

A modern statue of Asclepius from the Asclepium in Pergamos. Notice the snake, which was a symbol associated with Asclepius. This symbol continues to represent medical fields today (photo by Joel Meeker).

&ldquoThe books were of parchment which was here first used hence, the word &lsquoparchment,&rsquo which is derived from the name of the town Pergamos. Of the structures which adorned the city, the most renowned was the altar of Zeus, which was 40 ft. in height, and also one of the wonders of the ancient world&rdquo (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1939, &ldquoPergamos Pergamum&rdquo).

When the kingdom became Roman, Pergamos was named the capital of the province. In addition to providing government for the region, the city was a religious center. Beautiful temples were erected in honor of four pagan gods: Zeus, Dionysus, Athena and Asclepius. Asclepius was the mythological god of healing, and it is interesting to note that the serpent-entwined staff associated with him continues today as a symbol for modern medical arts.

&ldquoTo the temple of [Asclepius], invalids from all parts of Asia flocked, and there, while they were sleeping in the court, the god revealed to the priests and physicians by means of dreams the remedies which were necessary to heal their maladies. Thus opportunities of deception were numerous. There was a school of medicine in connection with the temple. &hellip

&ldquoSmyrna, a rival city, was a commercial center, and as it increased in wealth, it gradually became the political center. Later, when it became the capital, Pergamos remained the religious center&rdquo (ibid.).

Located in modern Turkey, Pergamos is now called Bergama. Among the ruins of the ancient city, which were excavated by the German government from 1879 to 1886, one can see the base of the altar of Zeus, a theater, the agora, a gymnasium and several temples.

Message to Pergamos

Christ&rsquos message to this congregation was: &ldquoI know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan&rsquos throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

&ldquoBut I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

&ldquoRepent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it&rdquo (Revelation 2:13-17).

Key points of the message

The foundation of the altar of Zeus, the vestiges of which were taken to Berlin in the 1800s (photo by Joel Meeker).

Several suggestions have been made to explain the reference to &ldquoSatan&rsquos throne&rdquo being located in Pergamos (verse 13). This could have referred to the altar to the pagan god Zeus (a wonder of the ancient world), to the worship of Asclepius (the pagan god of healing and the reason many came to Pergamos), to the whole collection of pagan temples at this city, or to the fact that the Roman emperors were here worshipped. Christ may have had all of these points in mind when He referred to &ldquoSatan&rsquos throne&rdquo being in Pergamos.

It is also significant to note that the reference to &ldquoSatan&rsquos throne&rdquo indicates that Satan has a government here on earth. He is indeed the god of &ldquothis present evil age&rdquo (Galatians 1:4), &ldquothe prince of the power of the air&rdquo (Ephesians 2:2) and the being who could offer Jesus &ldquoall the kingdoms of the world and their glory&rdquo if Jesus would worship him (Matthew 4:8-9).

In stating, &ldquoAnd you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr&rdquo (Revelation 2:13), Jesus commended the church of Pergamos for remaining faithful to Him. Although surrounded by pagan worship, influence and pressure to conform to the society around them, they had remained obedient to God.

Smith&rsquos Bible Dictionary states that, according to tradition, Antipas was the bishop of Pergamos prior to 100 A.D. (&ldquoAntipas&rdquo). In His message to the church at Pergamos, Christ tells them that He knew that this faithful man from their church had been martyred.

Even though members at Pergamos had held to the faith, Christ also told them that there were a few things of which some of them needed to repent. Specifically, Christ said that there were some who held &ldquothe doctrine of Balaam&rdquo and &ldquothe doctrine of the Nicolaitans&rdquo (verses 14-15).

The &ldquodoctrine of Balaam&rdquo refers to this man&rsquos misguided attempt to try to serve God while also fulfilling his own personal interests&mdashwhich were counter to God&rsquos&mdashas ancient Israel marched towards Canaan (Numbers 22-24). The point is: God expects us to obey Him fully, with our whole hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5 Psalm 119:2 Matthew 22:37). To learn more about why Balaam&rsquos conduct remained as an enduring example of how not to worship God, see the article &ldquoBalaam&rdquo on this website.

The &ldquodoctrine of the Nicolaitans&rdquo (Revelation 2:15) is not precisely explained in Scripture. Based on its usage here and previously in the message to Ephesus (verse 6), it is clear that this doctrine is something God hates. The wording in verse 15 can be taken as implying that this doctrine is the same as &ldquothe doctrine of Balaam&rdquo or similar to &ldquothe doctrine of Balaam.&rdquo

Application today

Like all of the messages to the churches, Jesus concludes His message to Pergamos by admonishing readers to heed the messages given to all seven of the churches. So what can we learn from this message to Pergamos?

A key lesson for us is that we must resist Satan&rsquos influence, even to the death, if necessary. Satan is a powerful spirit being who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). He and his demons present themselves as &ldquoministers of righteousness&rdquo (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) as they misrepresent God and His way of life. He, his cohorts and the world entice us to compromise our whole-hearted worship of God.

With the assistance of God&rsquos Word and the Holy Spirit, Christians can successfully resist Satan and the world&rsquos misguided thinking. If you are ready to commit to the life God wants you to lead, take action now:

  • The articles found in the &ldquoChange&rdquo section of this website provide excellent guidance in making necessary changes.
  • Additionally, attending a church that teaches the Christianity Jesus and the first-century apostles taught and practiced will accelerate your growth and provide fellowship with those of like mind. We can assist you in finding a congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, near you.

Remember that we are here to help you develop your relationship with God so you can eventually become part of His eternal family. Feel free to contact us to let us know how we can help.

David Treybig

David Treybig is a husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Teddi, have two grown children and seven grandchildren. He currently pastors the Austin, Texas, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He has served in the pastoral ministry for over 40 years, pastoring congregations across six states.


Life and Land

Introduction

The island of Cos played an important role in the history of medicine. In fact, one of the ancient medical discoveries made on this island is used on a regular basis today. Apart from the Band-aid, I’ll bet this “miracle drug” is in most, if not all, of our medicine cabinets at home. Some may carry a bottle of it in their purse, or have it in their cars’ glove compartment. This item is used for a host of things that ails us including headaches, back pain, fevers, and to reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

A physician on the island of Cos noticed that the bark from the white willow tree relieved the aches, pain, and fever of his patients. It wasn’t until the 1820’s that the substance that relieved the pain was identified as salicin and was used to create salicylic acid. In 1897, Felix Hoffman, a chemist for the Bayer Pharmaceutical company in Germany developed acetylsalicyhe acid to help relieve the pain of his father’s arthritis. Today, that discovery is known as aspirin! It is only within the last 200 years or so that we have rediscovered what Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine (460-375 BC), discovered on this island – an ancient form of aspirin.

We will come back to Hippocrates later, but first, let’s introduce the island.

Description of the Island

The island of Cos, approximately 290 square kilometers (180 square miles), lies in the center of the Dodecanese, a chain of islands along the southwest coast of modern-day Turkey. On a map, the shape of the island looks like a dolphin or a whale swimming. It is the third largest island in this chain and is approximately 100 kilometers northwest of Rhodes and 250 kilometers east-southeast of Athens, or 192 nautical miles from Piraeus, the seaport of Athens.

Pliny reports that the island is 100 Roman miles in circumference (Natural History 5.134 LCL 2:321). Strabo says the circumference was 550 stadia (Geography 14.2.19 LCL 6:287), which is about 90 miles and fairly close to reality.

A mountainous region begins south of the city of Cos and runs along the southern coast of the island. This region includes Dikaio Christo, the highest peak at 846 meters above sea level.

Today, the islanders make their living from agriculture, fishing, and tourism. The farmers raise vegetables, grapes, grain, olives, and citrus fruit. Beekeeping is a by-product of their agricultural work. They also raise livestock. In antiquity, the island of Cos was noted for its fruits and especially for its grapes (Pliny, Natural History 15:18 LCL 4:335 17:30 LCL 5:93).

The Greek historian and geographer, Strabo (64/63 BC to AD 21), gave a brief description of the island of Cos in Geography (14:2:19 LCL 6:287-289). Of the city of Cos he says, “… the city is not large, but it is the most beautifully settled of all, and is most pleasing to behold as one sails from the high seas to the shore.”

For a brief overview of the history of the island of Cos, see Picozzi 1976: 465-467. For an in-dept analysis, see Sherwin-White 1978.

Was there a Jewish Presence on the Island of Cos?

The ancient sources state that there were Jewish connections with the island, but there are no sources that indicate there was a thriving Jewish community living on the island in antiquity.

During the rule of Judah the Maccabee, some Jewish envoys received a safe-conduct letter from the consul C. Fannius Strabo to the magistrates of Cos for their trip from Rome to Jerusalem in 161 BC (Jewish Antiquities 14: 233 LCL 7: 573).

A letter on behalf of the high priest, Simon (ruled 140-134 BC) was written by the consul in Rome, L. Caecilius Metellus (1 Macc. 15:23), and sent to a number of cities, including Cos.

Josephus, the First Century AD Jewish historian, recounts an event that took place in 102 BC. In that year, Cleopatra III of Egypt “sent the greater part of her wealth and her grandsons and her testament to Cos for safe keeping [in the sanctuary of Asclepius]” (Jewish Antiquities 13: 349 LCL 7: 401). He goes on to quote Strabo of Cappadocia who relates what happened next. “’Mithridates sent to Cos and took the money which Queen Cleopatra had deposited there, and eight hundred talents of the Jews.’ Now there is no public money among us except that which is God’s and it is evident that this money was transferred to Cos by the Jews of Asia because of their fear of Mithridates” (Jewish Antiquities 14: 112-113 LCL 7: 505-507). The transfer of the “talents of the Jews” occurred in 88 BC. This money probably refers to gifts given to the Temple in Jerusalem or the yearly half-shekel Temple tax. Some have concluded that this number was too high for the annual Temple tax so suggested that this might be the private fortunes of the Jewish people living in Asia Minor.

A Greek inscription found in the excavations of Cos refers to a Jewess or a “God-fearer” (Safrai and Stern 1974: 154). Whether she was part of a Jewish community on Cos is a matter of speculation. We have no absolute information in this regard.

Josephus also tells us that Herod the Great (73-4 BC), the “king of the Jews,” “endowed (Cos) with revenues to maintain the annual office of gymnasiarch [the keeper of the gymnasium who was responsible for the conduct of the festal games and for the maintenance and payment of trainers and training-masters] to perpetuity, to ensure that this honourable post should never lapse” (Jewish Wars 1:423 LCL 2: 201). Herod the Great had sailed past Cos in the spring of 14 BC on his way to join Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ chief lieutenant in the Black Sea region, on his expedition to Bosporus (Jewish Antiquities 16:17 LCL 8: 215).

Another Greek inscription discovered on Cos mentioned Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea during the time of the Lord Jesus. He apparently followed in his father’s footsteps concerning diplomacy with the Greek world (Safrai and Stern 1974: 285).

Artists from the Island of Cos

One of the famous artists from Cos was Praxiteles whose workshop flourished between 364-361 BC. He worked in bronze, but his most famous works were in marble. On one occasion, he made two statues of Venus (Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty), one was draped with cloth and the other was not. The cultured and refined people of Cos were offended by the non-draped one, so they purchased the statue of her draped. The perverts from Cnidus loved the other statue of Venus so they purchased it and built a temple for her in their city. It became a major tourist attraction with people from all over the Aegean Sea sailing to see her in her birthday suit and all her naked glory! (Pliny, Natural History 36: 20-21 LCL 10: 15-17). The Apostle Paul sails by this city on at least three occasions, but there is no record of him, or the ship he was on, stopping there (cf. Acts 27:7).

The Silk Trade on Cos

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), writing in his History of Animals, describes a caterpillar that goes through each stage of its metamorphoses in six months and leaves behind a cocoon. He records: “Some of the women actually unwind the cocoons from these creatures, by reeling the thread off, and then weave a fabric from it the first to do this weaving is said to have been a woman of Cos named of Pamphila, daughter of Plateus” (5:19 LCL 10: 177). Silk was introduced to the Greek world by the Coans sometime before Aristotle. In the 1 st century AD, a purple silk was produced that was highly prized and in demand in Rome (Juvenal, Satire 8.101 LCL 167). For a discussion of the silk trade, see Richter 1929:27-33 Forbes 1930:22-26 Sherwin-White 1978:242, 378-383.

Some Coins from the Island of Cos

In 1979 a coin was discovered in a burial cave in Jerusalem. This coin was struck with a crab on it that is typical of the coins from the island of Cos that were minted down to the second century BC. Dr. Rachel Barkay, the former curator of the numismatic collection at the Bank of Israel, explained the importance of this coin: “The coin of Cos, found in the excavations of the ‘Shoulder of Hinnom’ in Jerusalem, is thus one of the earliest coins found in Israel and among the earliest coins minted. Judging by its context, we would safely date it somewhere between 550-500 BC” (1984-1985: 5).

The island of Cos minted coins in the first century AD. Most of the coins circulating on Cos when Dr. Luke and the Apostle Paul visited had the image of the bearded god Asclepius or a coiled snake, a symbol of the healing god, on the reverse side of the coin (Burnett, Amandry, and Ripolles 1992: 452-453 Plate 118 Kromann 1988). Incidentally, the medical symbol, the cross with a serpent around it, comes from the Asclepius cult, not Moses’ lifting up the serpent in the wilderness! (cf. John 3:14 Num. 21:7-9).

Hippocrates and the Asklepieion on Cos

The Asklepieion was the famous healing complex with its temples dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. It was located in the suburb of the city of Cos. This center of healing was made famous by Hippocrates (460-377 BC), the father of medicine, who was born on the island (Pliny, Natural History 29.2 LCL 8:185).

When Hippocrates lived on the island there was only an altar dedicated to the healing god Asclepius. The construction of the Asklepieion began after the death of Hippocrates in the mid-4 th century BC and was built in his honor.

Strabo describes this shrine: “In the suburbs [of the city of Cos] is the Asclepieium, a temple exceedingly famous and full of numerous votive offerings, among which is the Antigonus of Apelles. And Aphrodite Anadyomene [emerging from the sea] used to be there [this, too, was a painting by Apelles], but it is now dedicated to the deified Caesar in Rome, Augustus thus having dedicated to his father the female founder of the family. It is said that the Coans got a remission of one hundred talents of the appointed tribute in return for the painting. And it is said that the dietetics practiced by Hippocrates were derived mostly from the cures recorded on the votive tablets there. He, then, is one of the famous men from Cos and so is Simus the physician” (Geography 14.2.19 LCL 6: 287-289, brackets are footnotes in the Loeb edition).

Pliny the Elder mentions an inscription that was recorded on the temple to Asclepius on Cos. It gave the preparation for making a remedy for counteracting the poison of venomous animals. He adds a footnote, that “King Antiochus the Great is said to have used this preparation as an antidote for the poison of all venomous creatures except the asp” (Natural History 20. 264 LCL 6: 157).

There are some notable physicians that came out of the Hippocratic Medical School on the island of Cos. For example, the Greek historian Arrian (AD 95-175) reports that after Alexander the Great was severely wounded in a battle with Indians and he tittered on the brink of death, Critodemus, a physician from Cos, successfully removed the arrow and saved his life (Anabasis of Alexander 4. 11. 1 LCL 2:131).

Another physician, Gaius Stertinius Xenophon (ca. 10 BC-AD 54), was the personal physician to Emperor Claudius who reigned AD 41-54. Tacitus reports that Dr. Xenophon was one of the suspected culprits in the poisoning of Claudius when he ate mushrooms, the “food of the gods.” When the poison did not take effect right away Agrippina, the wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, got Dr. Xenophon to intervene. According to Tacitus, “He, it is believed, under cover of assisting the emperor’s struggles to vomit, plunged a feather, dipped in a quick poison, down his throat: for he was well aware that crimes of the first magnitude are begun with peril and consummated with profit” (Annals 12.67 LCL 4:415). Indeed, it was a profitable act. According to Pliny the Elder, Dr. Xenophon and his brother, also a physician, left 30 million sesterces to their heirs (Natural History 29.7-8 LCL 8:187).

There is a bit of irony in the actions of Dr. Xenophon because the Hippocratic Oath says: “I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrongdoing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. … Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free” (Hippocrate’s Oath, LCL 1:299-301 Kaipokas 1991: 13)!

There is even more irony here. Emperor Claudius, in AD 53, exempted the inhabitants of the island of Cos from paying taxes because of their contribution to the medical field and the prayers of Dr. Xenophon (Tacitus, Annals 12.61 LCL 4:405).

A biography of Hippocrates was written by Soranus, a Greek physician from Ephesus, who was trained in the medical school at Alexandria, but practiced medicine in Rome during the reigns of emperors Trajan and Hadrian (AD 98-138). Unfortunately, there are no known extant copies of this biography today.

The Visit by the Apostle Paul and His Fellow Travelers

At the end of his third missionary journey in AD 57, the Apostle Paul and his traveling companions bypassed Ephesus in order to get back to Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost). He stopped in Miletus, most likely for a few days, in order to meet with the Ephesian elders and exhort and encourage them in the work of the Lord, and to warn them of false teachers in the church (Acts 20:19-38).

After Paul’s tearful farewell to the elders, Dr. Luke picks up the account of their travels saying, “… when we departed from them we set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes …” (Acts 21:1). With a fair wind, the ship could cover the forty nautical miles due south in about six hours. If they left Miletus in the early morning, the ship would arrive at Cos by early afternoon and the Apostle Paul and his fellow travelers would have the rest of the day to engage in sight-seeing and evangelistic activities. They would have spent the night on Cos while the ship was off loaded and resupplied before continuing on their journey to Rhodes the next morning.

As they approached the harbor of Cos, the sailors and passengers, would have noticed the famous Asklepieion on the northwest slopes of the island, behind the city. They would have observed three terraces in this complex, each with temples and buildings on them. Perhaps Dr. Luke had an interest in visiting the Asklepieion for a closer view of the buildings, statues, and inscriptions. More than likely, some people on the ship were visiting Cos in hopes of getting healed because of the reputation of this shrine.

A guide book for Cos informs us that “the apostle Paul visited the island on one of his journeys, sharing and teaching his religion of love under the Hippocrates plane tree.” According to tradition, this plane tree [known to Americans as a sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis], situated a few minutes walk from the harbor area, was planted by Hippocrates and was the place where he taught his students (Alexandri 1981: 14, 58-59). Whether this tradition of Hippocrates planting the tree is true or not, and whether Paul preached under this tree, I do not know. There is no way to verify either of these claims. The tree, however, is claimed to be the oldest tree in Europe today.

How would the Apostle Paul have approached the people on Cos with the gospel or what would he have preached on the island? We could only conjecture. When Dr. Luke wrote the book of Acts he did not record all the events in Paul’s life because that was not his purpose. When he composed the book, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he selected those events that fit his overall theme, purpose and structure of the book. A detailed account of Paul’s visit to Cos was not included in Luke’s selection (Gooding 1995: 383-390). In fact, all he says about the visit to Cos is one line in one verse.

Permit me to use my sanctified imagination for a few minutes as to what the Apostle Paul and his traveling companions might have done on the island. I can imagine Paul disembarking from the ship and proclaiming the gospel of God’s grace to the people of the island. His first objective, as was his custom, might have been to make contact with the Jewish community on the island, if there was one on the island. In fact, only a few months before, he penned his missionary strategy in a letter to the church in Rome. He wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). If there was a synagogue he would have proclaimed the Lord Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and the fulfillment of the Messianic passages in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Or, perhaps at the urging of Dr. Luke, they walked out to the Asklepieion for a sight-seeing tour. As they approached the shrine, the entrance to the complex was on the northeast side of the complex through a propylon (gate) that opened up into a large open courtyard with a horseshoe shaped stoa around it built during the Hellenistic period. They would not have seen the Roman baths to their left (east) because that was built during the 3 rd century AD. As they approached the stairs leading to the second level they would have observed to the left of the stairs, springs in the retaining wall. To the right was a small, recently built temple that was built by the wealthy doctor and personal physician to the emperors, Gaius Xenophon. They would have observed a statue on a base with an inscription, probably dedicated to Emperor Nero.

As they ascended the stairs to the second terrace, a large altar, built in the middle of the 4 th century BC, came into view. Their tour-guide would have informed them that it was probably built by the sons of the famous artist Praxiteles. To the right of the altar was an Ionic temple to Asclepius dating to the 3 rd century BC. To the left of the temple (south) was the priest’s residence, called an “Abaton,” where the sick waited for the priest to diagnose their sickness and proscribe a cure. The diagnosis was based on the appearance of Asclepius in a dream of the sick person. Behind the Abaton, in the southwest corner, was the entrance to the sacred spring. To the left of the altar (east) was a temple in the Corinthian order. This would not have been visible to Paul and Luke because that was not built until the 2 nd century AD.

As they climbed to the third terrace, the prominent Doric temple came into view. This structure was dedicated to Asclepius in the 2 nd century BC and surrounded by a stoa. Many years later, this temple was turned into a church called the Panayia Tarsou.

Or, as tradition states, the Apostle Paul might have preached under the plane tree of Hippocrates in the city of Cos. If so, what might have been the text he used, or the Bible story he would tell? The Gospel of John would not be written for another 35 years or so, but Paul might have been aware of the event described in John chapter five. Paul grew up and was educated in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). He knew the city well. He had made several trips to the Holy City after his conversion and conferred with some of the original Twelve Apostles, including the Apostle John (Gal. 2:9). Most likely, someone, possibly the Apostle John, recounted the event of the man with the infirmity 38 years who laid in the “Beth Hesed” (the “house of mercy”) in Jerusalem (Franz 1989: 24-28 2017: 125-133).

It is my understanding that the “House of Mercy” was a healing shrine dedicated to the Semitic healing deity, Eshmun, who was known in the Greek world as Asclepius. What an opportunity the apostle had to proclaim the Lord Jesus as the true Great Physician. Everybody in his audience knew of the Asklepieion on the island. Perhaps some had been there for healing maybe others had just disembarked from the ship in order to visit the famous healing shrine. Just as John would use this miracle, or sign, to present the truth “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you might have life through His name” (20:31), so likewise Paul. He would proclaim the Lord Jesus as the Great Physician who not only heals the body, but also makes the soul whole and regenerates the spirit. Something Asclepius could not do!

What was going through Dr. Luke’s mind as the ship approached Cos? He could not help but see the Asklepieion situated on the slopes behind the city. He knew this was the home of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and the location of the famous medical center. I believe that Dr. Luke approached the island with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was indebted to Hippocrates for much of what he knew about medicine. Yet on the other hand, he could not accept Asclepius as a healing deity. In fact, in his research for his gospel, Luke records many of the healing miracles of Jesus (Hobart 1882). This caused Luke to worship the Lord Jesus Christ as the Great Physician. Dr. Luke was thankful that Hippocrates broke the bondage of superstition among the Greeks of his day. They believed that a person was sick because the Greek gods and goddesses were angry with them. People would then offer sacrifices in hope of appeasing the offended god or goddess. Hippocrates, on the other hand, based on his careful observations of his patients, said: “No, a person is sick because of the way they live. In order to get well, they must change their lifestyle.” He understood we live in a “cause and effect” world. The Apostle Paul would go one step further and say sin was the root cause of sickness and ultimately death.

Reflections on the Apostle Paul’s Visit to Cos

The Apostle Paul would have “seized the moment” to proclaim the gospel as he always did. He saw how blinded the people were to a god who was not a god at all and proclaimed to them the Lord Jesus as the Great Physician and the only One who could truly heal a person (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4-6). With the book of Romans fresh in his mind, (he had written it only a few months before), Paul would have gone to the “root of the matter” and declared that sickness and disease was the result of sin. Ultimately, death was the result of sin (Rom. 6:23a James 1:15). There were only a few exceptions to this universal law. The first was the Patriarch Job. God in His sovereignty allowed Satan to afflict Job with boils without him knowing about it (Job 2: 1-8). Also, the Lord Jesus healed a man who was blind from birth so that the works of God might be revealed in him (John 9:1-3). The third example was Paul himself. The Lord gave him an unnamed infirmity in order to keep him humble about all the revelations that he received from the Lord (2 Cor. 12: 5-10).

The problem of sin, however, affected everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Paul wrote in Romans, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (3:23). The only solution to this problem is putting ones faith in the Lord Jesus, and Him alone, as the One who died on Calvary’s cross to pay for all sin and rose again from the dead three days later (Rom. 6:23b). If anyone would puts his trust, or believe, in Him he can have forgiveness of his sins, a home in heaven, be justified and declared righteous by a holy God and clothed with His righteousness and be able to enter God’s presence forever (Romans 4 and 5). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior?

Bibliography of Works Consulted

Ancient Sources

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1976 The Jewish Wars, Books 1-3. Vol. 2. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203.

1986 Antiquities of the Jews. Book 12-14. Vol. 7. Trans. by R. Marcus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 365.

1980 Antiquities of the Jews. Book 15-17. Vol. 8. Trans. by R. Marcus and A. Wikgren. Cambridge, MA: Harvard university. Loeb Classical Library 410.

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1989b Natural History. Books 20-23. Vol. 6. Trans. by W. Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 392.

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Modern Works

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1984-1985 An Archaic Greek Coin from the “Shoulder of Hinnom” Excavations in Jerusalem. Israel Numismatic Journal 8:1-5.

Barrett, Bruce Kiefer, David and Rabago, David

1999 Assessing the Risks and Benefits of Herbal Medicine: An Overview of Scientific Evidence. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 5/4: 40-49.

  • Kos Between Hellenism and Rome: Studies on the Political, Institutional and Social History of Kos from ca. the Middle Second Century B.C. Until late Antiquity. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. N.S. 90/4: 1-189.

Burnett, Andrew Amandry, Michel and Ripolles, Pere Pau

1955 The Twelve Gods at Cos. Harvard Theological Review 48: 153-154.

Conybeare, William and Howson, John

1899 The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul. Hartford, CT: S. S. Scranton.

1943 The Hippocratic Oath. Text, Translation and Interpretation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins.

1930 The Silkworm of Aristotle. Classical Philology 25/1: 22-26.

1989 Divine Healer. Jesus vs. Eshmun. Archaeology and Biblical Research 2/1: 24-28.

2017 Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda. John 5:1-9. Pp. 125-133 in Lexham Geographic Commentary of the Gospels. Edited by B. Beitzel. Bellingham, WA: Lexham.

1995 True to the Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Folio.

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1991 Analysis of the Hippocratic Oath. Trans. by A. Hatzinikolaou. 2 nd edition. Athens: Kaipokas.

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Mahdi, J. G. Mahdi, A. J. Mahdi, A. J. and Bowen, I. D.

2006 The Historical Analysis of Aspirin Discovery. Its Relation to the Willow Tree and Antiproliferative and Anticancer Potential. Cell Proliferation 39: 147-155.

1976 Kos. Pp. 465-467 in Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Edited by R. Stillwell. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

1929 Silk in Greece. American Journal of Archaeology 33/1: 27-33.

1965 The Portraits of the Greeks. Vol. 1. London: Phaidon.

Safrai, Shemuel and Stern, Menahem

1974 The Jewish People in the First Century. Vol. 1. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress.

1976 The Jewish People in the First Century. Vol. 2. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress.

1978 Ancient Cos. An Historical Study from the Dorian Settlement to the Imperial Period. Gottingen: Vanderhoeck and Ruprecht.

1976 Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism. 2 vols. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Science and Humanities.

2000 The Natural History of Medicinal Plants. Portland, OR: Timber.

1991 Hippocrates in the World of Pagans and Christians. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.


Hippocrates: knowing, caring, loving

Of what remains of papyrus, parchments, copies and records of ancient sciences, the Corpus Hippocraticum- a collection of around sixty small books or treatises on medicine — must be among the most significant. Written over the course of centuries, the Greek physician Hippocrates (c.460–377 BC) was the mentor, inspiration and the principal author of these treatises, which were added to in later work by his disciples and in writing passed down from previous physicians.

According to history, Hipp o crates lived during the apogee of Athenian democracy, around the 4th century BC. The Corpus Hippocraticum itself was developed during the course of the five centuries of Greco-Roman antiquity (from 400 BC- AD200).

A brief timeline of the period in which the Corpus Hippocraticum was written

During this same period, Hippocrates and Plato and the Aristotelians of the second century AD and Galen were engaged in dialogue. Philosophers and physicians exerted great influence upon each other and this led to the appearance of previously unseen modes of thought (logos) of nature (physis) and of health and affection (pathos). There were reflections on the ethics and rhetoric of the model of the physician as beneficial, in addition to investigations into the logic involved in diagnostic reasoning: there was even the emergent possibility of a concept of a “medicine of the soul”, among other themes. This dialogue reached its most intense during the period of Athenian democracy when Sophocles staged tragedies such as Oedipus the King and Aristophanes comedies including The Clouds.

Hippocrates founded his medical school on the Greek island of Cos and his family belonged to a lineage of Asclepiads, cleric-doctors taken to be descendents of Asclepius, the god of healing, who transmitted his medical art from generation to generation. The revolution instigated by Hippocrates involved distancing medicine from religion, prophecies and superstitions, founding it definitively on logical-philosophical premises which today we would term “scientific”.

Although the medicine of the ancient Egyptians had already accumulated an enormous wealth of clinical-surgical knowledge long beforehand, it was with the Greeks, in a manner never before seen in history, that medicine came to become based exclusively on reason (logos). A process of observation, description and a study of nature (physis) emerged, that took into consideration man and illness, seeking to understand the complexity of what it meant to be human. This was beyond the practical scope of Egyptian doctors in the effective treatment of fractures and wounds, while still employing magical ritual cures.

In the Hippocratic school, an ethic was developed specifically for the benefit of the patient, and was well described in the Hippocratic Oath which serves to remind the graduating doctor — even today — that “ the sick is not a thing or an means, but rather an end, a value, therefore consider it as such” (Reale & Antiseri, p.126).

The following is an excerpt from the Hippocratic Oath with minor adaptations:

I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.

With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art.

Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption and, further from the seduction […].

Whatever, […] I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge […]. (HIPPOCRATES, 2014).

Based on the ancient Greek philosophy of the Beauty, the Good and the Just, the ethical posture of the Hippocratic doctor reveals itself over time in the evaluation of the singularity of the sick person and their present state. This remains fundamentally true and relevant, even today in the 21st century, in prescriptions, and in the guidance of lifestyles and treatment, always with the exclusive benefit of the patient in mind.

The same ethical spirit is what breathes life into the pertinent and essential dialogue between doctor and patient (and/or with others present at the time) regarding the prognosis. In other words, based on the understanding of what one can expect from the diagnosis of the present state of sickness, in addition to expectations and perspectives on improvements as a result of treatment.

Greek physicians understood the prognosis as an “arc of a vision of the past, present and future of that singular case of the sick person (Reale & Antiseri, p.126–9). This arc may, and indeed should be shared with the patient at the time and in the extent to which it is deemed appropriate to each moment.

Based on the philosophical distinction between kronos, the linear time of the clock, and kairos, the right time or the rational moment to act, medicine considers the question of the opportune time in medical art. As such the Hippocratic physician reflects in order to momentarily omit what is a suspicion of severe sickness and also judges the appropriate occasion to communicate an uncertain or reassuring prognosis. But when, in what words, and in what tone should one enter into dialogue with the patient about the diagnosis and prognosis?

In Laws, 857, Plato says to the physician:

“you are not doctoring your patient, but schooling him, so to say, as though what he wanted was to be made, not a sound man, but a doctor.” (PLATO, 2016)

In the Corpus Hippocraticum, the treatise Regimen in Health looks, above all, to share medical understanding by clarifying the subject and educating laymen and patients: it speaks of the “proportion of medical culture necessary for the profane in their personal use, with the aim of impeding the disease from worsening or, when impossible, at least with the aim of understanding better the physician’s recommendations and assisting in them”. Medicine was already making a conscious effort to communicate certain medical understanding to the general public: “A special medical literature appears, aimed at people unfamiliar with the profession (Jaeger, p.1012–4).

Even today, quality content on medical and scientific thinking which speaks to the general public is particularly useful for patients and those close to them. This material can and should be recommended by the doctor and includes books, sites, and associations of people who suffer from certain conditions.

For Jaeger, clarifying the patient’s background has therefore become the ideal for scientific therapy ever since Greek antiquity. Back then, only the physicians of slaves, who could not waste time, would treat patients on a massive scale and give summary instructions, without delaying in deepening their work (Plato, Laws, 720). Indeed there were already patients in overcrowded clinics while others were treated in comfortable private chambers…

Today we see with greater clarity what, since the time of Hippocrates, has been known as tékné iatrós (ars curandi in Latin) this consists of the complementary nature of the clinical-surgical technique (tékné) of the physician together with the ethical-humanism required for medical practice (philantropia). We recall that, in a definition provided by Plato (p. ex., Górgias, 464), the tékné is a form of knowledge about the nature of an ideal prototypical object designed to serve man, something along the lines of a technique for producing something useful for our well-being.

From this point of view, should we seek to humanise the cold and technological protocols of globalised managed care, then Hippocrates is, and shall always be pertinent in the art of medicine. There is a sense that he has become debased in daily practice, oppressed by the exiguous nature of human contact. According to Sever (2016), the average consultation time in the United Kingdom is six minutes. This dehumanisation is also a consequence of the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, of diagnostics, insurance policies, and the bureaucracy and/or inefficiency of public and private-business health systems. In my country, Brazil, public health has for decades seen patients lying in hospital corridors, dying at the doors of accident and emergency wards notwithstanding the absence of resources for sanitation and sewage systems.

We return once again, however, to the social-cultural conditions experienced in 300 BC Greece. One ought to consider that “Hippocratic physicians brought about a recognition during their time of the existence of an acquired, organised, efficient technique […] they had to make it understood that medicine is an art, a tekné, and not practice ungoverned by rules, founded on the claims, vociferation and the prescriptions of charlatans” (Salem, 2002, p. 19). Nor under the knives of precarious barbarian-surgeons, one might add. For Plato, the tékné represents a form (eidós, a general idea or concept) of something which is worked on in an ordered and systematic manner with the aim of producing the correct result. In this case, reestablishing the well-being of the patient and the promotion of health (Lopes, p. 372).

The maturing process of Greek medical art culminated in the gradual construction of the first hospital-schools, the most important of which was the School on the island of Cos, located next to the temples of Apollo and Asclepius. At this medical school Hippocrates lectured in the shade of oak trees that are still standing today. Lectures were heard in the amphitheatre at Epidaurus, patients were observed daily in their beds (the word klinéi, reclined, can be found in the etymology of the word clinic), innovative medical records were written, and care plans were prescribed for treatments in adequate locations.


Lesser Gods of the Sky

Iris

    : Iris, possibly the personification of the rainbow, was, together with Hermes, the Olympian gods' messenger. She was the daughter of Thaumas and the oceanid Electra and granddaughter of Gaia and god Poseidon.

Most writers describe her as a virgin, although according to one myth, she lay with Zephyrus and gave birth to Eros.

Iris carried the waters of the river Styx, on which the immortals took oaths. She also conveyed Zeus's orders to the other gods and changed form to convey the will of the gods to mortals.

: The Graces were lesser gods which personified attraction, charm and desire. They symbolized graces and happiness in nature and in the lives of the mortals.

There are several myths surrounding their exact number, their names and their parents. According to Hesiod, they were three and their names were: Euphrosyne, Aglaia and Thalia. They were the daughters of Zeus and the oceanid Eurynome.

Others claim that their mother was either Hera, Eunomia, or Lythe. Others claim that their father was Uranus.

The Charites were givers of all goods. They used flowers and fruit as symbols to civilize the mortals' lives and they were the providers of inspiration for all forms of art.

: The Horae were lesser gods which guarded the gates of heavens and Olympus. They symbolized the seasons and later, the subdivisions of the day and the hour.

They were daughters of Zeus and Themis. Their names were Eunomia(Order), Dike(Justice) and Eirene(Peace).

Nine Muses

: The Muses were lesser gods of music and intellectual creation. Their cult seems to originate from Thrace.

According to Hesiod, there were in total nine of these Muses, who were born in Pieria and were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Each one of them, was considered to be a patron of a particular form of art. These were:

  • Clio, the Muse of History
  • Euterpe, the Muse of music and lyric poetry
  • Thalia, the Muse of comedy (not to be confused with the other Thalia, one of the three Graces)
  • Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy
  • Terpsichore, the Muse of dance
  • Erato, the Muse of love poetry and music songs
  • Polymnia, the Muse of sacred song and oratory
  • Urania, the Muse of astronomy
  • Calliope, the Muse of epic or heroic poetry.

: Helius (Sun) was the son of the Titan Hyperion and Theia. He was brother of Eos and Selene.

According to myth, he would tirelessly cross the sky on a chariot that was drawn by horses with breaths of flame, thus bringing light to gods and mortals. At night, he would rest in a boat or a chalice in the ocean, from where he rose every morning.

Omniscient, proud and ruthless, the god would punish anyone who came into conflict with him. Once, when a son of Nereus bragged that he was faster than him, he punished him by turning him into a mollusk.

: Daughter of the Titan Hyperion and Theia and sister of Helius and Selene, Eos was the eternally young goddess of the dawn.

Selene

: Selene, daughter of Hyperion, was the personification of the moon. She was also known as Mene.

According to myth, she lay with Zeus and bore him the beautiful daughters Pandia, Nemea and Herse, who was the personification of morning dew. The poet Mousaios is also considered to be her son.

The cult of Selene was widespread in Peloponese, and the Spartans would always make sure to embark on military campaigns, only in favorable lunar phases. In Nemea, a city in Argolid, it was believed that the Nemean lion killed in one of the labors of Hercules, was Selene's son.


Asclepius, the God of Healing

Asclepius, a son of Apollo, was a god of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. We are all familiar with Asclepius in a way, since the symbol that is used for medicine, the snake entwined staff, was the rod of Asclepius. According to mythology, Asclepius was brought up by the mysterious figure of ancient Greek mythology, the centaur Chiron, who raised Asclepius and taught him about the art of medicine. Because Asclepius used his powers to bring people from Hades (meaning resurrecting them), the God of Hades complained to Zeus because Asclepius converted many people from humans to immortals. The result was for Zeus to kill Asclepius with thunder.

Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff, Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus ( Public domain )


Statue of Asclepius from Cos - History


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There was no hospital in the ancient world - physicians would sometimes allow patients to stay in their homes while they were treated, but there was nothing like a hospital until the cult of Asclepius and the Temples of Healing. Asclepius was in Greek myth the son of the god Apollo and Coronis, daughter of King Phlegyas of Trikka in northern Greece. He is associated with the physician staff with a snake wrapped around it. Today this is the symbol of the medical profession. The cult of Asclepius spread throughout Greece and in about 430 BC a great temple was

built to Asclepius at Epidaurus, near the east coast of sourthern Greece. Hippocrates, the famous ancient Greek physician and founder of the Hippocratic Oath taken by all physicians today, was an Asclepiad. The temple at Epidaurus began as a healing shrine. The process of healing was known as incubation. The patient spent the night at the temple. During the night they would be visited by the god in a dream. Priests would then interpret the dreams and prescribe treatment.

Epidaurus also took in seriously ill patients, providing them with sanctuary. The Roman emperor Antoninus Pius later expanded the site at Epidaurus by building a 180 room structure for the dying and for women in childbirth. Most of the Temples of Healing were built in wooded valleys close to springs and caves where 'good spirits' were thought to dwell.


votive tablet from the Temple of Asclepius at Athens, depicting a case of scalpels and cupping instruments

In ancient times the cock was sacrificed at his altar. According to Plato's Phaedo, the last words of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates were a reminder to Crito to sacrifice a cock for him to Asclepius.


Watch the video: Asclepius: The Greek God of Medicine (August 2022).