Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology

Asclepius | Aesculapius

Classical Greece | Roman Empire, patron of the medical profession to the present-day.

Leaving his human form behind in the Grecian temple, Aesculapius the Healer slithered down to the Roman ship in the likeness of a serpent.

Asclepius was an Ancient Greek god of healing and is still today the patron of the medical profession in many places around the world, depicted holding a staff, often a rough branch, with a snake twining around it.

Staff of Asculepius

According to the Roman poet Ovid, who wrote in the first century BC, Asclepius was born from a corpse, as life from death, while his mother lay on a funeral pyre. Asclepius’s father Apollo gave the child to the Centour Chiron to bring up. Chiron’s daughter Ocyrhoe, who was a prophetess, foretold that the child would be a great healer, raising the dead back to life again, but that Zeus would put a stop to this.

There was obviously once a shrine to Asclepius, whom the Romans called Aesculapius, on an island in the Tiber. And the object of veneration in the sanctuary on this island is likely to have been a snake, because Ovid describes how, when a great pestilence was gripping Rome, a delegation was sent to Asclepius’s home in Greece to ask the god for help. Asclepius indicated that he would be willing to come to Rome with them (at least, according to this Roman version of his story!) so, leaving his human form behind in the Grecian temple, he slithered down to the Roman ship in the likeness of a serpent, sailed to Italy with the delegation and disembarked into his new Roman temple, as a snake.

Story fragment recounted from: Innes, Mary M., 1955. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated from Latin with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Ovid: Metamorphoses, Book XV [616–761], pp 351–4.

Aesculapius, god of healing

See for yourself

Ovid – Wikipedia

Asclepius – Wikipedia

The Caduceus vs the Staff of Asclepius – Keith Blayney

Ovid's Metamorphoses – Wikipedia

Ovid's Metamorphoses, a complete English translation – translated by Anthony S Kline

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