Thursday, November 26, 2015

Asklepios, healer

I’m going to skip yesterday for now to talk about what I did today because I’ve just been reading some more about it and it is more interesting than I had imagined. I went to the ancient site of Epidaurus to see a Greek theater and a fourth century BC archaeological site. The bus ride was beautiful, and the olive trees! For miles!

olives as far as the eye can see...

One of the drawbacks of traveling off season is you don’t have the same schedules for things as summer, like opening hours for sites and buses and such. Well, the bus from Nafplio, where I am staying, drops you off 1.5km away from the archaeological site from November to March. Yeah, so that was a hike. Fortunately, I was gifted with another beautiful, warm day, and the walk was pleasant on the way there (it was for most of the way back except for the stray dogs…)

I hadn’t read up on the site much – I thought I was going to see the amphitheater and a few piles of rocks, not realizing the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and maybe the site of the world’s first hospital. It was a sanctuary for the cult of Asklepios (Asclepius), worshiped as a healer. You know the medical symbol with the serpent on the rod that we use? That’s the Rod of Asclepius. (Although some moron in the US Army confused it with Hermes' staff for the medics and so many Americans use the wrong symbol.)

Water and cleanliness were vital to the worship of Asklepios, and they had interesting water systems and baths set up all over the sanctuary. The very first thing you did when you entered was wash yourself at the well just inside the gateway. There were baths everywhere. One of Asklepios’s daughters was Hygia, where the word “hygiene” comes from. These were mostly sick people – we still have spas today for the same purpose.

Knowledge of medicine was supposedly a divine gift and kept rather secret, so we don’t really know what the healers did at the sanctuary. We know about some rituals, the food sacrifices and ritualistic meals, and the sleeping in a temple for the purpose of having Asklepios visit you in dreams as part of the healing process.

Asklepios may have been based on a real person, but the legend grew into mythology. Most say he was the son of Apollo and therefore a god, while others say he was a demi-god with a human mother. They say he brought people back from the dead and that Hades didn’t like it so he had Zeus kill him. There are many stories about him, some contradictory.

Now every time I see a medical sign with the Rod of Asclepius, I will think of Epidaurus. Photos:

the well at the entrance to the sanctuary, circa 6th or 5th century BC

view from sanctuary entrance

ruins of sanctuary entrance

roman baths

roman baths

reconstruction of one of the stoa

tholos - no one is sure what they used it for


tickets, please

One difference between Greek and Roman - the Greeks always made sure to keep it open for the scenery.

This was the hospice where the pilgrims and patients stayed.

Super informative


hospice - you can see the columns where a courtyard was in the middle

greek baths

ancient athletic field (athletics is a greek word, you know)

more of the temple is inside the museum

the romans added their own baths to the site later on

roman baths

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