Picture above: Marble relief of Asklepios and his daughter Hygeia. From Therme, Greece, end of the 5th century BC.
In Greek mythology, Asklepios is the god of medicine, health, and healing.
He is the offspring of the god Apollon and Koronis, a princess of the Thessalian kingdom of Phlegyantis.
Asklepios was worshipped all over Greece, and his temples were most commonly built in places that promoted good health, like on hills or by wells that were said to have healing powers.
Asklepios was born to a human mother, Koronis, and a divine father: Apollon, a great healer himself. Because of his mortal mother, Asklepios started out as a mortal man.
There are many different accounts of Koronis’ death. One of them say Apollon killed her when she fell in love with someone else, and another tells of her dying in the midst of giving birth to Asklepios, and Zeus (or Apollon or Hermes) cut the baby out of her womb, saving him. He was then given to Kheiron, the Kentauros, who raised him and taught him the art of medicine and healing.
The Rod of Asklepios has only one snake, instead of two like the kerykeion, Hermes’ staff.
How Asklepios came to possess the skill of returning the dead to life, there are two accounts of. According to Apollodorus, Athena gave him the blood of Gorgo, and the blood that had flowed from the veins of the right side of her body possessed the power of restoring the dead to life.
The other version of this says that Asklepios once was in the house of Glaucus, whom he was to cure, when a serpent twined itself around his staff. Asklepios killed it, but then another serpent came, and in its mouth it carried a herb with reviving abilities, and, from that day on, Asklepios used the herb to return the dead to life.
This resulted in Zeus killing Asklepios, since no mortal should be able to defy death, but after his death Asklepios was given godhood.
Machaon and Podaleirios, Asklepios’ mortal sons, fought in the Trojan war on the side of the Hellens. Podaleirios survived the war. An illigitimate son, Telesphoros, is also mentioned, and he is the recovery from illness, and is immortal.
Asklepios’ daughters are Hygeia, Iaso, Akeso, Aiglê, and Panakeia, and they assist Asklepios in guarding over mankind.
Hygeia is the goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation, and a companion of the goddess Aphrodite.
Iasô is the goddess of cures, remedies, and modes of healing.
Akeso is the goddess who oversees the healing of wounds and the curing of illness. She does not bring the cure itself, but oversees the process of healing.
Aiglê is the goddess of the beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment that comes with good health.
Panakeia is the goddess of cures and panaceas—healing aids in the form of medicines, salves and other curatives.