HEALTH CARE IN ANCIENT GREECE: SPELLS, MEDICINES AND HEALING TEMPLES

HEALTH CARE IN ANCIENT GREECE


Greek physician and patient

Greeks initially believed that illness and poor health were punishments delivered to them by an angry Apollo and the only way to get well again was to pray to Apollo. Health-restoring powers were also ascribed to other gods and goddesses. Apollo’s son Aesculapius, who reportedly learned how to keep people healthy from a centaur, was the God of Medicine. Greeks often prayed to him and his daughter Panacea (source of the word “panacea”) and his son Hygeia (source of the word “hygiene”).

Medicine was developed in conjunction with the strenuous training of athletes. The Ptolemaic Greeks created a great center of medical scholarship and treatment in Alexandria. Priests in Aesculapius temples of health are said to have ushered patients into special rooms and ordered them to sleep. When they awoke a treatment was based on their dreams. Cures that were successful were recorded as miracles.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Medicine in classical antiquity was a collection of beliefs, knowledge, and experience. What we know of early medical practice is based upon archaeological evidence, especially from Roman sites—medical instruments, votive objects, prescription stamps, etc.—and from ancient literary sources. Most of the literary evidence is preserved in treatises attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 B.C.) and the Roman physician Galen. “From the earliest times, treatments involved incantations, invoking the gods, and the use of magical herbs, amulets, and charms. “In ancient Greece and Rome, Asklepios was revered as the patron god of medicine. [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “There were several factors that influenced the development of medicine in ancient Greece. First, there was the potent force of religion with its gods and goddesses who dealt with healing, death and pestilence. Then there was the influence of trading contacts such as Egypt (which had learned much from its mummification practices) and Mesopotamia (which had published comprehensive medical documents on clay tablets well before 1000 B.C.). From these and other Eastern areas, the Greeks also developed an encyclopedic range of herbal medicines. [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca *|*]

“To cap it off, there was the sad result of war - a variety of wounds and amputations caused by arrows, swords, spears and accidents- and described so vividly and accurately in Homer's Iliad. Just dealing with these casualties provided lots of experience and practical information applicable elsewhere. Although Greek religion frowned on human dissection in the Archaic and Classical periods, after the founding of the Alexandrian School that changed. Physicians and researchers made advances in some areas that were not surpassed until the 18th Century. *|*

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu

Doctors and Health Care Practitioners in Antiquity

20120222-health Roman_catheters.jpg
Roman catheters
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Drug sellers, root cutters, midwives, gymnastic trainers, and surgeons all offered medical treatment and advice. In the absence of formal qualifications, any individual could offer medical services, and literary evidence for early medical practice shows doctors working hard to distinguish their own ideas and treatments from those of their competitors. The roots of Greek medicine were many and included ideas assimilated from Egypt and the Near East, particularly Babylonia.” [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Medical practitioners frequently traveled from town to town, but there is little evidence to suggest that they were hired to provide free care for the general population. In Rome, for instance, where traditional Italian medicine competed with foreign imports, many doctors were Greek. Anyone could practice medicine, although most were free citizens. Medical training in ancient Greece and Rome might take the form of an apprenticeship to another doctor, attendance at medical lectures, or even at public anatomical demonstrations. \^/

“Two of the most famous healing sanctuaries sacred to the god were at Epidauros and on the island of Kos. The success of the cult of Asklepios in antiquity was due to his accessibility—although the son of Apollo, he was still human enough to attempt to cancel death. Those who sought a cure in the temples erected to him were subjected to ritual purifications, fasts, prayers, and sacrifices. A central feature of the cult and the process of healing was known as incubation, during which the god appeared to the afflicted one in a dream and prescribed a treatment. \^/

Treatment and Surgery in Ancient Greece

20120222-Health Bronze_forceps.jpg
Bronze forceps
Disease was presumed to be caused by an imbalance of the body's four humors: blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy. The words sanguine (from the Latin word for blood), phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic all originated as descriptions as of these imbalances. A person's 'temperament' was his unique balance of the four cardinal humors and our word 'temperature' come from an attempt to measure this balance.

A set of Greek medical instruments consisted of catheters, a rectal speculum, scoops, probes, hooks, forceps, traction hooks and bone chisels. Cauterizing (burning of part of a body to remove or close off a part of it) was a standard medical procedure in ancient times. Brain-swelling was sometimes relived with trephination, an ancient medical technique in which holes were cut into the brain to relieve pressure. It was procedure thought to be only performed on the elite.

Broken bones, surprisingly, were often not set, meaning that victims were disfigured for the rest of the lives. Other times bones were set with skill. "This was a remarkable surgical procedure," an archaeologist told National Geographic, displaying a thigh bone from an ancient Greek skeleton. "Someone used a lot of force to pull the lower part of the broken bone down, reset it, and keep it in place for weeks against the enormous pressures of contracting muscles."

Studies have shown that providing clean water and sanitation can bring about tremendous benefits. People live longer, stay healthier and become productive while health care costs go down. People have realized the importance of clean water for some time. A tomb from ancient Egypt dated to 1450 B.C. depicts an elaborate filtering system. The ancient Greeks and especially the Romans devoted a lot of energy and resources to clean water.

Ancient Greek Medicines

20120222-health Votive_relief_Asklepios.jpg
Votive relief Asklepios
Ancient Greek medicines consisted primarily of herbs and plants. Seeds of the autumn crocus were used by the ancient Greeks as a treatment for gout. Quill was used as a heart stimulant and fennel and senna were taken for heartburn. To get rid of worms doctors prescribed tansy and belladonna. In the first century A.D., Pedanius Dioscorides, the Galen of pharmacology, noted that juices from willow bark and leaves eased aches related to clots and fever. In the 19th century aspirin was synthesized from the same bark and trees. In the 5th century B.C., Hippocrates also described the use of willow bark.

Dioscorides' medical manual, which consisted of descriptions and drawings of hundreds of plants and herbs, was followed by doctors for 1,600 years. He wrote the berry of the juniper was good for "the stomach, infirmities of the thorax, coughs, inflammations, poisons of venomous beasts." The common radish was "welcome to the mouth, but not good for the stomach, besides it causes belching." Mandrakes was recommended for anesthesia but it was advised not to prepare too much for "they make men speechless" for days at a time.

Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), a Greek naturalist and philosopher, was one of the first to write about the use of opium poppy juice. In his time the juice of the poppy was taken orally. Some Romans grew it in their gardens.

For snake bites the physician Nicander Addie recommended the victim to drink wine with a viper's head. Aristotle recommended eating the snake while Pliny suggested rubbing the wounds with snake intestines. For a spider bite Nicander prescribed a mixture of wine, sheep dung, rabbit curd and salt.

Ancient Greek Dentistry


Ancient Egyptian dentistry

The most common form of dental treatment in ancient times seems to have been tooth extraction. Aristotle obviously had not bothered to look first when he declared that men had more teeth than women.

On the subject of dentistry, Hippocrates wrote in Affections , "the bones, the teeth and the tendons have cold as an enemy and, warmth as a friend; because it is from these parts that comes the spasms...that cold induces, heat removes."

Many Greeks suffered from painful tooth decay. "There were no dentists to extract teeth," one archaeologist who examined ancient Greek skeletons told National Geographic, "People were walking around with raging toothaches. We've seen many teeth completely decayed or lost."

Hippocrates erroneously observed that tooth "pain derives from mucous insinuating itself under the roots of the teeth. Teeth are eroded and become decayed partly by mucous, and partly by food, when they are by nature weak and badly fixed in the mouth.”

Birth Control and Contraceptives in Ancient Greece

According to historians, demographic studies suggest the ancients attempted to limit family size. Greek historians wrote that urban families in the first and second centuries B.C. tried to have only one or two children. Between A.D. 1 and 500, it was estimated the population within the bounds of the Roman Empire declined from 32.8 million to 27.5 million (but there can be all sorts of reason for this excluding birth control).

20120221-Silphium.jpg
silphion
Birth control methods in ancient Greece included avoiding deep penetration when menstruation was "ending and abating" (the time Greeks thought a woman was most fertile); sneezing and drinking something cold after having sex; and wiping the cervix with a lock of fine wool or smearing it with salves and oils made from aged olive oil, honey, cedar resin, white lead and balsam tree oil. Before intercourse women tried applying a perceived spermicidal oil made from juniper trees or blocking their cervix with a block of wood. Women also ate dates and pomegranates to avoid pregnancy (modern studies have shown that the fertility of rats decreases when they ingest these foods).

Women in Greece and the Mediterranean were told that scooped out pomegranates halves could be used as cervical caps and sea sponges rinsed in acidic lemon juice could serve as contraceptives. The Greek physician Soranus wrote in the 2nd century A.D. : "the woman ought, in the moment during coitus when the man ejaculates his sperm, to hold her breath, draw her body back a little so the semen cannot penetrate into the uteri, then immediately get up and sit down with bent knees, and this position provoke sneezes."

Valuable Ancient Greek Contraceptive Plant

In the seventh century B.C., Greek colonists in Libya discovered a plant called silphion , a member of the fennel family which also includes asafoetida , one of the important flavorings in Worcester sauce. The pungent sap from silphion, the ancient Greeks found, helped relieve coughs and tasted good on food, but more importantly it proved to be an effective after-intercourse contraceptive. A substance from a similar plant called ferujol has been shown in modern clinical studies to be 100 percent successful in preventing pregnancy in female rats up to three days after coitus. [Source: John Riddle, J. Worth Estes and Josiah Russell, Archaeology magazine, March/April 1994]

Known to the Greeks as silphion and to the Romans as silphium, the plant brought prosperity to the Greek city-state of Cyrene. Worth more than is weight on silver, it was described by Hippocrates, Diosorides and a play by Aristophanes.

Sixth century B.C. coins depicted women touching the silphion plant with one hand and pointing at their genitals with the other. The plant was so much in demand in ancient Greece it eventually became scarce, and attempts to grow it outside of the 125-mile-long mountainous region it grew in Libya failed. By the 5th century B.C., Aristophanes wrote in his play The Knights , "Do you remember when a stalk of silphion sold so cheap?" By the third or forth century A.D., the contraceptive plant was extinct.

Abortions in Ancient Greece

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silphion symbol
Abortions were performed in ancient times, says North Carolina State history professor John Riddle, and discussions about featured many of the same arguments we hear today. The Greeks and Romans made a distinction between a fetus with features and one without features. The latter could be aborted without having to worry about legal or religious reprisals. Plato advocated population control in the ideal city state and Aristotle suggested that "if conception occurs in excess...have abortion induced before sense and life have begun in the embryo.”

The Stoics believed the human soul appeared when first exposed to cool air, and the potential for a soul existed at conception. Hippocrates warned physicians in his oath not to use one kind of abortive suppository, but the statement was misinterpreted as a blanket condemnation of all of abortion. John Chrystom, the Byzantine bishop of Constantinople compared abortion to murder in A.D. 390, but a few years earlier Bishop Gregory of Nyssa said the unformed embryo could not be considered a human being. [Riddle has written a book called Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance ].

Health and Healing Spells in Ancient Greece

John Opsopaus of hermetic.com wrote: Most of the spells from the magical papyri here were discovered in Egypt the nineteenth century and brought together as part of the Anastasi Collection. It is quite likely that many of the papyri come from a single source, perhaps a tomb or temple library, and it is commonly supposed that they were collected by a Theban Magician. In any case, they are one of the best sources of Greco-Egyptian magic and religion.” [Source: John Opsopaus, Papyri Graecae Magicae hermetic.com |+|]

Spell for Migraine Headache: “Take Oil in your Hands and utter the Spell: “Zeus sowed a Grape Seed: it parts the Soil; He does not sow it; it does not sprout.” [Papyri Graecae Magicae VII.199-201] |+|

Spell for Scorpion Sting: “OR OR PHOR PHOR SABAO'TH ADO'NE SALAMA TARCHEI ABRASAX, I bind you, Scorpion of Artemisia, three-hundred and fifteen times, on the fifteenth day of Pachon . . .” [Papyri Graecae Magicae XXVIIIa.1-7] |+|


red jasper magical intaglio

Fever Amulet: “ABLANATHANABLANAMACHARAMARACHARAMARACH BLANATHANABLANAMACHARAMARACHARAMARA
LANATHANABLANAMACHARAMARACHARAMAR
ANATHANABLANAMACHARAMARACHARAMA
NATHANABLANAMACHARAMARACHARAM
ATHANABLANAMACHARAMARACHARA
THANABLANAMACHARAMARACHAR
ANABLANAMACHARAMARACHA
NABLANAMACHARAMARACH
ABLANAMACHARAMARA
BLANAMACHARAMAR
LANAMACHARAMA
ANAMACHARAM
NAMACHARA
AMACHAR
MACHA
ACH
[Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, hermetic.com |+|]

““O Tireless One, KOK KOUK KOUL, save Tais whom Taraus bore from every Shivering Fit, whether Tertian or Quartan or Quotidian Fever, or an Every-other-day Fever, or one by Night, or even a Mild Fever, because I am the ancestral, tireless God, KOK KOUK KOUL! Immediately, immediately! Quickly, quickly!” [Papyri Graecae Magicae XXXIII.1-25] |+|

Spell for Coughs: In Black Ink, write on Hyena Parchment: “THAPSATE STHRAITO'” - or as I found in another: “TEUTHRAIO' THRAITEU THRAITO' THABARBAO'RI [symbol: an X in a circle] LIKRALIRE'TA - deliver NN from the Cough that holds him fast.” [Papyri Graecae Magicae VII.203-5] |+|

A Contraceptive, the Only One in the World: “Take as many Bittervetch Seeds as you want for the Number of Years you wish to remain Sterile. Steep them in the Menses of a Menstruating Woman. Let them steep in her own Genitals. And take a Frog that is alive and throw the Bittervetch Seeds into its Mouth so that the Frog swallows them, and release the Frog alive at the place where you captured him. And take a Seed of Henbane, steep it in Mare's Milk; and take the Nasal Mucus of a Cow, with Grains of Barley, put these into a Leather Skin made from a Fawn and on the outside bind it up with Mulehide Skin, and attach it as an Amulet during the Waning of the Moon in a Female Sign of the Zodiac on a Day of Kronos or Hermes [i.e., Saturn or Mercury]. Mix in also, with the Barley Grains, Cerumen from the Ear of a Mule. [Papyri Graecae Magicae XXXVI.320-32] |+|


ointment stamps

“A Prescription to Stop Blood: “Juice of “Great-Nile” Plant together with Beer; you should make the Woman drink it at Dawn before she has eaten. It stops. [Papyri Demoticae Magicae xiv.953-5] |+|

“The Way to Know it of a Woman Whether She will be Pregnant: You should make the Woman urinate on this Plant, above [i.e., “Great-Nile” plant], at Night. When Morning comes, if you find the Plant scorched, she will not conceive. If you find it green, she will conceive. [Papyri Demoticae Magicae xiv.956-60] |+|

Herbal Medicines and Spells in Ancient Greece

Spell for Picking a Plant: “Use it before Sunrise. The Spell to be spoken: “I am picking you, such and such a plant, with my Five-fingered Hand, I, NN, and I am bringing you home so that you may work for me for a Certain Purpose. I adjure you by the Undefiled Name of the God: if you pay no Heed to me, the Earth which produced you will no longer be watered as far as you are concerned - ever in Life again, if I fail in this Operation, MOUTHABAR NACH BARNACHO'CHA BRAEO' MENDA LAUBRAASSE PHASPHA BENDEO'; fulfil for me the Perfect Charm!” [Papyri Graecae Magicae IV.286-95] [Source: translations by Hans Dieter Betz (ed.), “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells,” Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986, hermetic.com |+|]

Procedure for Obtaining Herbs: “Among the Egyptians Herbs are always obtained like this: the Herbalist first purifies his own Body, then sprinkles with Natron and fumigates the Herb with Resin from a Pine Tree after carrying it around the Place 3 times. Then, after burning Kyphi and pouring the Libation of Milk as he prays, he pulls up the Plant while invoking by Name the Daimon to whom the Herb is being dedicated and calling upon Him to be more effective for the Use for which it is being acquired. |+|

“The Invocation for him, which he speaks over any Herb, generally at the Moment of Picking, is as follows: “You were sown by Kronos, you were conceived by Hera, you were maintained by Ammon, you were given birth by Isis, you were nourished by Zeus the God of Rain, you were given growth by Helios and Drosos [Dew]. You are the Dew of all the Gods, you are the Heart of Hermes, you are the Seed of the Primordial Gods, you are the Eye of Helios, you are the Light of Selene, you are the Zeal of Osiris, you are the Beauty and Glory of Ouranos, you are the Soul of Osiris' Daimon which revels in Every Place, you are the Spirit of Ammon. As you have exalted Osiris, so exalt yourself and rise just as Helios rises each day. Your size is equal to the Zenith of Helios, your Roots come from the Depths, but your Powers are in the Heart of Hermes, your Fibers are the Bones of Mnevis [i.e., Mr-wr, the holy bull of Heliopolis], and your Flowers are the Eye of Horus, your Seed is Pan's Seed. I am washing you in Resin as I also wash the Gods [i.e., the cult statues] even as I do this for my own Health. You also be cleaned by Prayer and give us Power as Ares and Athena do. I am Hermes! I am acquiring you with Good Fortune and Good Daimon both at a Propitious Hour and on a Propitious Day that is effective for all things.” |+|


Contents of a grave of a Greek Aural doctor, 3rd century

“After saying this, he rolls the Harvested Stalk in a Pure Linen Cloth (but into the place of its Roots they threw seven Seeds of Wheat and an equal number of Barley, after mixing them with Honey), and after pouring in the Ground which has been dug up, he departs. [Papyri Graecae Magicae IV.2967-3006] |+|

Interpretations of Herbs and Other Ingredients: “Which the Temple Scribes employed, from the Holy Writings, in translation. Because of the Curiosity of the Masses they [i.e., the scribes] inscribed the Names of the Herbs and Other Things which they employed on the Statues of the Gods, so that they [the masses], since they do not take Precaution, might not practice Magic, [being prevented] by the Consequence of their Misunderstanding. But we have collected the explanations from many Copies, all of them Secret. |+|

“Here they are: A Snake's Head: a Leech.
A Snake's Ball of Thread: this means Soapstone.
Blood of a Snake: Hematite.
A Bone of an Ibis: this is Buckthorn.
Blood of a Hyrax: truly of a Hyrax [probably the rock hyrax, Procavia capensis].
Tears [Sleep Sand] of a Hamadryas Baboon: Dill Juice.
Crocodile Dung: Ethiopian Soil.
Blood of a Hamadryas Baboon: Blood of a Spotted Gecko.
Lion Semen: Human Semen.
Blood of Hephaistos: Wormwood.
Hairs of a Hamadryas Baboon: Dill Seed.
Semen of Hermes: Dill.
Blood of Ares: Purslane.
Blood of an Eye: Tamarisk Gall.
Blood from a Shoulder: Bear's Breach [probably Acanthus mollis L. or Helleborus foetidus L.].
From the Loins: Camomile.
A Man's Bile: Turnip Sap [probably Brassica napus L.].


ruins of the healing temple at Epidaurus

A Pig's Tail: Leopard's Bane [probably a variety of leopard's bane in the genus Boronicum, or one of the heliotropes].
A Physician's Bone: Sandstone.
Blood of Hestia: Camomile.
An Eagle: Wild Garlic [Trigonella foenumgraecum, but the reading is doubtful].
Blood of a Goose: A Mulberry Tree's Milk.
Kronos' Spice: Piglet's Milk.
A Lion's Hairs: Tongue of a Turnip [i.e., the leaves of the taproot].
Kronos' Blood: . . . of Cedar.
Semen of Helios: White Hellebore.
Semen of Herakles: this is Mustard-rocket [probably Eruca sativa].
A Titan's Blood: Wild Lettuce.
Blood from a Head: Lupine.
A Bull's Semen: Egg of a Blister Beetle.
A Hawk's Heart: Heart of Wormwood.
Semen of Hephaistos: This is Fleabane.
Semen of Ammon: Houseleek.
Semen of Ares: Clover.
Fat from a Head: Spurge.
From the Belly: Earth-apple.
From the Foot: Houseleek. [Papyri Graecae Magicae XII.401-44] [Similar lists can be found in De succedaneis transmitted among the works of Galen, Claudii Galeni Opera Omnia (Kuehn, ed.), vol. 19, 721-47; adapted version in Paul of Aegina, Paulus Aegineta, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum IX/2 (Heiberg, ed.), vol. II, 401-8; and in Dioscorides' Materia Medica.] |+|

Well Cure in Ancient Greece

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): The Oropians have near the temple a spring, which they call the Spring of Amphiaraus; they neither sacrifice into it nor are wont to use it for purifications or for lustral water. But when a man has been cured of a disease through a response the custom is to throw silver and coined gold into the spring, for by this way they say that Amphiaraus rose up after he had become a god. Iophon the Cnossian, a guide, produced responses in hexameter verse, saying that Amphiaraus gave them to the Argives who were sent against Thebes. These verses unrestrainedly appealed to popular taste. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“Except those whom they say Apollo inspired of old none of the seers uttered oracles, but they were good at explaining dreams and interpreting the flights of birds and the entrails of victims. My opinion is that Amphiaraus devoted him self most to the exposition of dreams. It is manifest that, when his divinity was established, it was a dream oracle that he set up. One who has come to consult Amphiaraus is wont first to purify himself. The mode of purification is to sacrifice to the god, and they sacrifice not only to him but also to all those whose names are on the altar. And when all these things have been first done, they sacrifice a ram, and, spreading the skin under them, go to sleep and await enlightenment in a dream.”

Healing Temples of Ancient Greek

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Two of the most famous healing sanctuaries sacred to the god were at Epidauros and on the island of Kos. The success of the cult of Asklepios in antiquity was due to his accessibility—although the son of Apollo, he was still human enough to attempt to cancel death. Those who sought a cure in the temples erected to him were subjected to ritual purifications, fasts, prayers, and sacrifices. A central feature of the cult and the process of healing was known as incubation, during which the god appeared to the afflicted one in a dream and prescribed a treatment. [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar,Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

Strabo wrote in “Geographia” (c. A.D. 20): “On the road between the Tralleians and Nysa is a village of the Nysaians, not far from the city Acharaca, where is the Plutonium, with a costly sacred precinct and a shrine of Pluto and Kore, and also the Charonium, a cave that lies above the sacred precinct, by nature wonderful; for they say that those who are diseased and give heed to the cures prescribed by these gods resort there and live in the village near the cave among experienced priests, who on their behalf sleep in the cave and through dreams prescribe the cures. These are also the men who invoke the healing power of the gods. And they often bring the sick into the cave and leave them there, to remain in quiet, like animals in their lurking-holes, without food for many days. And sometimes the sick give heed also to their own dreams, but still they use those other men, as priests, to initiate them into the mysteries and to counsel them. To all others the place is forbidden and deadly. [Source: Strabo, The Geography of Strabo: Literally Translated, with Notes, translated by H. C. Hamilton, & W. Falconer, (London: H. G. Bohn, 1854-1857)


Asclepeion healing temple in Kos


Philostratos wrote in “Life of Apollonios of Tyana” (c. A.D. 190): “When the plague broke out at Ephesos and there was no stopping it, the Ephesians sent a delegation to Apollonios asking him to heal them. Accordingly, he did not hesitate, but said, "Let's go," and there he was, miraculously, in Ephesos. Calling together the people of Ephesos, he said, "Be brave; today I will stop the plague." Then he led them all to the theater where the statue of the God-Who-Averts-Evil had been set up. In the theater there was what seemed to be an old man begging, his eyes closed, apparently blind. He had a bag and a piece of bread. His clothes were ragged and his appearance was squalid. Apollonios gathered the Ephesians around him and said, "Collect as many stones as you can and throw them at this enemy of the Gods."The Ephesians were amazed at what he said and appalled at the idea of killing a stranger so obviously pitiful, for he was beseeching them to have mercy on him. But Apollonios urged them on to attack him and not let him escape. When some of the Ephesians began to pitch stones at him, the beggar who had his eyes closed as if blind suddenly opened them and they were filled with fire. At that point the Ephesians realized he was a demon and proceeded to stone him so that their missiles became a great pile over him. After a little while Apollonios told them to remove the stones and to see the wild animal they had killed. When they uncovered the man they thought they had thrown their stones at, they found he had disappeared, and in his place was a hound who looked like a hunting dog but was as big as the largest lion. He lay there in front of them, crushed by the stones, foaming at the corners of his mouth as mad dogs do. [Source: Philostratus, the Athenian, The Lives of the Sophists, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, (London: Wm. Heinemann, 1922)

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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