Asclepius (/æsˈkliːpiəs/; Greek: Ἀσκληπιός, Asklēpiós [asklɛːpiós]; Latin: Aesculapius) was a god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia ("Hygiene", the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa/Ægle (the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis. He was one of Apollo's sons, sharing with Apollo the epithet Paean ("the Healer") The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today. Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius.
The etymology of the name is unknown. (cf. Leucippe) In his revised version of Frisk's Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Greek etymological dictionary), R.S.P. Beekes gives this summary of the different attempts:
"H. Grégoire (with R. Goossens and M. Mathieu) in Asklépios, Apollon Smintheus et Rudra 1949 (Mém. Acad. Roy. de Belgique. Cl. d. lettres. 2. sér. 45), explains the name as 'the mole-hero', connecting σκάλοψ, ἀσπάλαξ 'mole' and refers to the resemblance of the Tholos in Epidauros and the building of a mole. (Thus Puhvel, Comp. Mythol. 1987, 135.) But the variants of Asklepios and those of the word for 'mole' do not agree.The name is typical for Pre-Greek words; apart from minor variations (β for π, αλ(α) for λα) we find α/αι (a well known variation; Fur. 335 - 339) followed by -γλαπ- or -σκλαπ-/-σχλαπ/β-, i.e. a voiced velar (without -σ-) or a voiceless velar (or an aspirated one: we know that there was no distinction between the three in the substr. language) with a -σ-. I think that the -σ- renders an original affricate, which (prob. as δ) was lost before the -γ- (in Greek the group -σγ- is rare, and certainly before another consonant); Beekes Pre-Greek.Szemerényi's etymology (JHS 94, 1974, 155) from Hitt. assula(a)- 'well-being' and piya- 'give' cannot be correct, as it does not explain the velar."
One might add that even though Szemerényi's etymology (Hitt. asula- + piya-) does not account for the velar, it is perhaps inserted spontaneously in Greek due to the fact that the cluster -sl- was uncommon in Greek: So, *Aslāpios would become Asklāpios automatically.
He was the son of Apollo and a human woman, Coronis. His mother was killed for being unfaithful to Apollo and was laid out on a funeral pyre to be consumed, but the unborn child was rescued from her womb. Or, alternatively, his mother died in labor and was laid out on the pyre to be consumed, but his father rescued the child, cutting him from her womb. From this he received the name Asklepios, "to cut open."
Apollo carried the baby to the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius and instructed him in the art of medicine. It is said that in return for some kindness rendered by Asclepius, a snake, licked Asclepius’ ears clean and taught him secret knowledge (to the Greeks snakes were sacred beings of wisdom, healing, and resurrection). Asclepius bore a rod wreathed with a snake, which became associated with healing. To this day a species of non-venomous pan-Mediterranean serpent, the Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) are named for the god.
Asclepius became so proficient as a healer that he surpassed both Chiron and his father, Apollo. Asclepius was therefore able to evade death and to bring others back to life from the brink of death and beyond. This caused an influx of human beings and Zeus was relegated to killing him in order to maintain balance in the numbers of the human population.
Asclepius was married to Epione, with whom he had six daughters: Hygieia, Meditrina (the serpent-bearer), Panacea, Aceso, Iaso, and Aglaea, and three sons: Machaon, Podaleirios and Telesphoros. He also sired a son, Aratus, with Aristodama. The names of his daughters each rather transparently reflect a certain subset of the overall theme of "good health".
At some point, Asclepius was among those who took part in the Calydonian Boar hunt.
Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt because he raised Hippolytus from the dead and accepted gold for it. Other stories say that Asclepius was killed because after bringing people back from the dead, Hades thought that no more dead spirits would come to the underworld, so he asked his brother Zeus to stop him. This angered Apollo, who in turn murdered the Cyclopes who had made the thunderbolts for Zeus. For this act, Zeus suspended Apollo from the night sky and commanded Apollo to serve Admetus, King of Thessaly for a year. Once the year had passed, Zeus brought Apollo back to Mount Olympus and revived the Cyclopes that made his thunderbolts. After Asclepius' death, Zeus placed his body among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus ("the Serpent Holder").
Some sources also stated that Asclepius was later resurrected as a god by Zeus to prevent any further feuds with Apollo.
The most famous temple of Asclepius was at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese. Another famous healing temple (or asclepieion) was located on the island of Kos, where Hippocrates, the legendary "father of medicine", may have begun his career. Other asclepieia were situated in Trikala, Gortys (in Arcadia), and Pergamum in Asia.
In honor of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and these snakes — the Aesculapian Snakes — slithered around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. These snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius throughout the classical world. From about 300 BC onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the god (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary - the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation. Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.
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 ...".
Some later religious movements claimed links to Asclepius. In the 2nd century AD the controversial miracle-worker Alexander claimed that his god Glycon, a snake with a "head of linen" was an incarnation of Asclepius. The Greek language rhetorician and satirist Lucian produced the work Alexander the False Prophet to denounce the swindler for future generations. He described Alexander as having a character "made up of lying, trickery, perjury, and malice; [it was] facile, audacious, venturesome, diligent in the execution of its schemes, plausible, convincing, masking as good, and wearing an appearance absolutely opposite to its purpose." Justin Martyr, a philosophical defender of Christianity who wrote around 160 AD claimed that the myth of Asclepius foreshadowed rather than served as a source for claims of Jesus's healing powers. In Rome, the College of Aesculapius and Hygia was an association (collegium) that served as a burial society and dining club that also participated in Imperial cult.