In Greek and Roman mythology, Asclepius was the god of medicine. He was the son of Apollo * and of the nymph Coronis. While Coronis was pregnant with Asclepius, she fell in love with a human. The jealous Apollo arranged for his sister Artemis (Diana) * to kill her. As Coronis's body lay burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo removed the child. He gave the baby to the wise centaur Chiron, who raised him and taught him medicine. When Asclepius grew up, he began to cure the sick. He became so skilled in medicine that he could even bring the dead back to life. Fearing that Asclepius might make all people immortal, Zeus * struck him with a thunderbolt and killed him. Deeply saddened, Apollo asked Zeus to place Asclepius in the sky, where he became the constellation Ophiucus.
Asclepius's family included his daughters, Hygieia, the goddess of health; and Panacea, the goddess of healing. His sons were both skilled physicians who served in the Trojan War *. His symbol was a wooden staff with a single snake wound around it. It is used to the present day with two snakes as the symbol of physicians.
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
pyre pile of wood on which a dead body is burned in a funeral ceremony
centaur half-human, half-animal creature with the body of a horse and the head, chest, and arms of a human
immortal able to live forever
Asclepius was widely worshiped, and his temples were places of healing. Patients would perform ritual baths, sacrifices, and fasting and spend the night in the temple. As they slept, Asclepius would appear to them in dreams. In the morning, his priests would interpret the dreams. It is said that some patients awoke from their dreams completely cured.
See also Apollo .
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.