Medicine in Ancient Greece: Asclepius and the Healing Cult at Epidaurus

04/01/2017

Jeffrey Jeltema
Mentor: Dr. John Vonder Bruegge
Honors Program

While separation of church and state is a common modern practice, in ancient Greece both religion and everyday life were intimately connected. The gods influenced everything, including the medical and healing practices of the day. 

Ancient Greeks believed the gods caused illness and disease; conversely, the gods could also bring healing. Notably, the ancient Greeks worshipped Asclepius, the god of healing, who worked primarily through dreams. Asclepius had worshippers across the Greek empire, but the town of Epidaurus was the center of worship for Asclepius and his physician-priests. Located twenty-five miles southeast of Corinth on the Argolid plain, Epidaurus was famous for its sanctuary to Asclepius, called the Asclepeion. Philhellenes would flock from across the empire to visit the Asclepeion for a chance to be visited by Asclepius in a dream and receive healing by his hand or by the hand of one of his priest-physicians. The people's belief in Asclepius was strong, and the sanctuary experienced booming success for centuries. My research focuses on the myths surrounding the god Asclepius, the history of healing at the Asclepeion and its development over time, and the influence of Asclepius' healing cult on both ancient and modern medicine.