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The Greek Demigod who Became the God of Medicine

In Greek mythology, the most powerful gods, known as the 12 Olympians, could not bring back the dead. Only Asclepius, the god of medicine, could. However, Asclepius wasn't always a god; he was born a demigod.

Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Koronis, the god of the sun and a mortal, respectively. In some myths, his mother abandoned him as a child and left him to be raised by a dog and a goat. His father, Apollo, raised him and taught the young demigod the secrets of medicine. Asclepius was tutored by Cheiron, a wise centaur and the teacher of many legendary heroes who lived on Mt. Pelion.

In some myths, Asclepius married Hygeia, another god of health, but in others, she was his daughter, and he married Epione instead. Asclepius had two sons and four daughters. His descendants, known as the Asclepiads, also carried on his legacy of medicine.

His medicine was believed to be able to revive the dead. When Zeus, god of the sky, heard about this, he saw the demigod Asclepius as a threat to the great divide between the mortals and immortals. Fearing this unchecked power, Zeus threw a bolt of lightning at Asclepius and killed him. According to some myths, Asclepius became the constellation Ophiuchus after his death. Apollo challenged Zeus for his son’s treatment but was punished and made to serve Admetos, the king of Thessaly, for one year.

As the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius and his devotion to health were revered by the Greeks, and ancient sculptures and buildings were constructed to worship this god. The staff held by Asclepius in ancient imagery and sculptures is still used as a medical symbol today. A statue of Asclepius envisioned and sculpted by late Monona artist Harry Whitehorse can be found in front of the UW Health Yahara Clinic on East Broadway in Monona.

[Source: World History Encyclopedia]

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