Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 39: Florence, Part 19

January 1, 2024


Uffizi Gallery

4. The God of Medicine, Asclepius

We have previously mentioned the God of Medicine, Asclepius, in the Venice Edition dated August 1st, 2021, and the Florence Edition dated October 1st, 2022.

In this edition, we will delve into his story in more detail.

In Greek mythology, the sun god Apollo was also known as the "god of archery."

Apollo fell in love with the beautiful maiden Coronis in the Thessalian region of Greece, and she became pregnant with his child.

But, men couldn't resist Coronis's beauty, and she gave in to the advances of a young man while carrying Apollo's child.

Apollo, who had placed a crow as a lookout, was informed of Coronis's infidelity.

Enraged, he shot an arrow through her heart with his bow.

However, Apollo soon regretted his impulsive act of violence.

He despised the crow, which had reported to him, and made its pure white feathers turn jet black, condemning it to mourn Coronis for all eternity.

This is why the crow's feathers are black.

Unable to give up on Coronis, Apollo approached her as she neared death, and she confessed that she was carrying Apollo's child.

Apollo, amidst the fiery flames, opened her abdomen and extracted the unborn child.

Thus, their son Asclepius was born, and Apollo entrusted his upbringing to the wise centaur Chiron, who was part human and part horse.

Chiron excelled in the art of medicine.

Recognizing that Asclepius inherited Apollo's divine blood and was exceptionally talented in medicine, Chiron fervently educated him.

Asclepius became a renowned physician, capable of curing any severe illness.

After receiving some of Medusa's blood from the goddess Athena, he could even resurrect the dead.

On the other hand, human being is meant to die.

The almighty god Zeus, angered by Asclepius's manipulation of human life and death, struck him down with a bolt of lightning and burned him to ashes.

Apollo, grieving the loss of his beloved son, lamented.

Zeus, showing sympathy for Apollo, elevated Asclepius to the heavens and made him a member of the divine pantheon.

From then on, Asclepius, known as the "god of medicine," delivered humans from the suffering of diseases.

The staff entwined with a snake that he carried became a symbol of medicine.

Snakes can survive for long periods without food and repeatedly shed their skin while growing.

Therefore, in ancient Greece, snakes were seen as symbols of health, longevity, and regeneration.

This is why Asclepius's staff is still featured in the Rod of Asclepius depicted on the body of Fujisawa City's ambulance, logos of various organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Medical Association (AMA), the Japan Medical Association, and many emergency medical service vehicles around the world.

Every summer night in the southern sky, the constellations of Ophiuchus and Serpens shine.

The god of medicine, Asclepius, became a constellation alongside the snake, symbolizing medicine.