(Latinised version of Greek Aσκληπιος, Asklepios)

In the following, all names are given in the Greek form. Latinised versions are in {curly brackets}.

The worship of Asklepios {Asclepius} originated in Thessaly. According to Strabo1, the oldest and most famous Asclepian temple lay in this northern Greek region, in the city of Trikka. Strabo further states2 that Asklepios was born by the river Lethaios, which flows near Trikka.

In the Iliad3, Asklepios is named in connection with the two doctors Machaon and Podaleiros from Trikka, who are also called "sons of Asklepios". The Iliad also tells us4 that Asklepios had received instuction in the healing arts from the centaur Cheiron {Chiron}. Yet, nothing in the Iliad implies that Asklepios was regarded as a god in Homeric times, nor that he was the focus of any sort of cult of worship.

An ancient poem, Eoia, attributed to the Boiotian poet Hesiod, describes Asklepios as the son of the god Apollon {Apollo}. Only fragments have been preserved of this poem, but on the basis of this and later versions of the tale, the Thessalian myth can be reconstructed5 as follows:

"In the Boebeian lake, the lake of Phoibos {Phoebus}, a beautiful Lapithian maiden, Koronis {Coronis}, was bathing her feet. Phoibos saw her, and seized by passionate desire, he stepped close to her and plucked the fruit of love, unhesitant, as when he saw another Lapithian maiden, the huntress Kyrene {Cyrene}, on nearby Mount Pelion.

"Months passed, and the day came when Koronis was to go to her cousin Ischys, the husband selected for her by her father. She did not resist this selection, though she carried the token of heavenly love under her heart.

"Her friends gathered to sing the bridal hymn, and dance the nuptial dances. Then, the raven, scout of Apollon, brought news of this to him in his Delphic abode. Anguish and anger arose in him, and his divine rage was visited upon the messenger, whose white feathers were turned to black, the colour of sorrow, which still haunts men today.

"Swift was the god's vengeance. His arrow struck Ischys. The shots of Artemis laid Koronis and her guiltless friends low. The merciless one sat upon her throne in Pherai by the Boebeian lake, and aided her brother in his bitterness.

"And yet, when he saw his beloved upon the funeral pyre, Apollon took pity upon his unborn son. He, who had sent death, gave life, and carried the infant to Pelion, to the cave of the righteous centaur Cheiron. Under his care, Koronis' son Asklepios grew up, learned the virtues of the roots of the forest, all the gentle juices of the herbs, and many healing spells. As a grown man, he became a healer of reknown, blessing many who suffered illness and disease.

"In his arrogance, however, he broke the rules that bind man - he began to raise up the dead. Therefore, Zeus the Thunderer struck him with his thunderbolt, and he who had abridged the rights of Death was himself taken by it."

Though born of mortal woman, and himself dying in the end, Asklepios was thus of divine lineage, and he became known as a god of healing.

As Epidauros slowly grew to become the focus of the Asclepian cult, the Epidaurians were committed to claiming Epidauros as his birthplace. A number of sources much younger than Homer and Hesiod give the Epidaurian version of Asklepios' myth.


1 Strabo, IX.437

2 Strabo, XIV.647

3 The Iliad, II.731; IV.194; XI.518

4 The Iliad, IV.219. The centaurs lived in Thessaly, and Cheiron dwelt on Pelion.

5 U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff: Isyllos von Epidauros, Philologische Untersuchungen, 9. Heft., p. 57ff (1886)