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The Rod of Asclepius

Although Greek physicians were distinctively secular, the people of Miriam’s time still regarded healing as a sacred enterprise. That is, they appealed to Asclepian practitioners, those who relied on Asclepius, the god in Greek mythology of medicine, healing, and rejuvenation, as well as physicians for their remedies. (See my blog of February 23, 2016 for how mania was treated in an asclepion, a spa-like temple dedicated to Asclepius. In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Judah’s mentor, Saul, sends his wife to one.)

Asclepius is usually portrayed with a beard to appear majestic like Zeus and with a serpent-entwined staff. What is the significance of this Rod of Asclepius? Cornutus, a Greek philosopher contemporaneous with Miriam, offered this view: Those who avail themselves of Asclepian therapies will be rejuvenated like the serpent, which, as it sloughs off its skin, becomes young again. At the same time, the staff will support those seeking treatment and prevent them from falling sick again.

Despite Greek physicians’ attempts to be independent of the supernatural, the original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation, "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …." Go figure.

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