Day Twenty-three: Your own composition – a piece of writing about or for this deity
Sing, O Muse, of Asclepius, the son of Apollo the healer and ox-eyed Coronis, princess of Trikka…
You didn’t grow up with the kind of self-doubts mortals have: Who am I? Where am I going? What place do the gods have in my life? When the oldest and wisest of the centaurs is your foster father, you pretty much have to believe him when he tells you Apollo is your father, and that you’re destined to be a hero. The only real question is what kind of hero you are going to be – but your questioning mind and aptitude soon settle that: you will be a healer, like Chiron, like your father. When the other boys in Chiron’s tutelage go to hunt the Calydonian Boar, and join Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece, you are among them. You are fast, and strong, and clever, but killing isn’t to your liking, and you use your sword only when you have no other choice.
At some point, someone tells you about your mother. You are proof that the gods exist, and proof, too, that they can be cruel. You travel to Thessaly, to Trikka, where her family greets you warmly. Your skill at healing draws an endless queue of supplicants so that your grandfather, King Phlegyas, provides you with rooms and servants to treat the sick and injured. You fall in love, marry, and your home is soon a noisy place full of rowdy children.
When the sons of your old friends join the Achaean forces sailing to Troy, your two oldest boys lead the crews of 30 ships from Trikka to bring back the queen abducted by Paris from Sparta. Ten years quickly pass, as you tame diseases and train students. Ten years until the 30 ships return, laden with Trojan treasure. When you arrive at the dock, only one son disembarks to greet you.
A messenger arrives from Minos, King of Crete, begging you to visit, and to teach the art of medicine to the healers of his realm. When you arrive, the palace is in turmoil: the king’s son has died. Minos looks at you through tear-misted eyes, and begs you to save his boy. You know what it is to lose a son, but what he asks is beyond your skill. The king is nearly mad with grief, and has you imprisoned.
It could have been worse: you might have been flung into the Labyrinth, to disappear like so many others, devoured by the hideous Minotaur. After days without number, a small visitor appears in your cell, a serpent. You recognize the species as harmless, and share your meager food with it. It becomes tame enough for you to pet, and one day it coils around the warmth of your hand. In delight, you pick it up and hold it close to examine. Its flickering tongue darts out to tickle your ear…and suddenly, you know. You know how to restore the king’s son.
The boy lives, and Minos generously rewards you with praise and treasure. But you know him to be a relentless man, and you doubt he will ever allow you to leave Crete. During the celebrations, you secretly gather some of the gold in a bag, steal a ragged cloak, and hurry to the harbor. You pay the captain of a boat bound for the mainland to carry you across the wine-dark sea.
Epidaurus welcomes you, and becomes your new home. The people build a place with many rooms, a temple to Apollo, and a fountain flowing with fresh, pure water. There you treat the sick and to teach new physicians. So do many years pass, while your skill and fame grow ever greater.
One day, a messenger arrives from Theseus, King of Athens, pleading for you to hurry. The king’s son, Hippolytus, is injured and dying. You gather your instruments and medicines, and the charioteer whips the horses…but it is too late. Theseus looks at you through tear-misted eyes, and asks you to save his boy. You know what it is to lose a son, and what he asks is now within your skill.
Theseus generously rewards you with praise and treasure. You know him to be a bringer of justice, and this time you enjoy the celebrations. But Zeus, your grandfather, is also ruler of the Universe, and there are absolute laws which must not be broken. One day, seeking healing herbs along the river outside the walls of Athens, the air grows still. There is a brilliant flash, a searing heat, and then – nothing.
When you awaken, you see eyes of startling blue, a handsome face, pale curling hair. You have never before seen your father.
“Arise, my son,” Apollo says tenderly. “Welcome to Mount Olympus!”
And now, Apollo, lord of the Muses, be gracious, you and your son, Asclepius, the blameless physician, and for my song grant me heart-cheering substance. And so hail to you: in my song I make my prayer to thee!