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Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art
Asklepios (Ἀσκληπιός; Latin, Aesculapius), the Greek god of healing and son of Apollo.
The mythical relationship between Asklepios and Apollo may have been associated with the latter's epiphet Paean (there are various Greek spellings, including Παιήων, Paion, healer, helper) and his function as the physician of the Olympian gods. Although Paean is thought by some scholars to have originally been a separate god, the name became associated with Apollo and later an epithet of Asklepios. In his epigram On a statue of Asklepios
, the 3rd century BC Syracusan poet Theocritus refers to his doctor friend Nikias of Miletus as a "son of Paean". 
Doctors (Θεραπευταί, Therapeutai) were also referred to as "Sons of Asklepios". The renowned physician Hippocrates of Kos (Ἱπποκράτης, circa 460-370 BC) practised at the asclepieion on the island of Thasos at the end of the 5th century BC (see below
), and in the 2nd century AD Galen of Pergamon (Γαληνός, Galenos, circa 129-217 AD) began his distinguished career at the Pergamon Asclepieion
. Nicomachos, the father of the philosopher Aristotle
, was the personal physician of King Amyntas III of Macedonia, grandfather of Alexander the Great.
A sanctuary of Asklepios, known as an asclepieion (also asclepeion or asclepion; Greek, Ἀσκληπιεῖον, Asklepieion; Latin, aesculapium), usually included a temple and a healing centre. Many also had theatres and areas for the worship of associated deities such as his daughter Hygieia
(Ὑγιεία) and his son Telesphoros (Τελεσφόρος).
The largest, most famous and probably oldest asclepieion was at Epidauros (Ἐπίδαυρος, pronounced Epidavros in modern Greek) in the Argolid, northeastern Peloponnese, Greece (see photo below
). The Asklepios cult appears to have spread around the Greek world from here from around the 5th century BC. Asclepieions were founded all around Greece, Macedonia, Thrace, Anatolia (East Greece, Asia Minor) and the Greek cities of Italy, including: Athens
, Amphipolis, Thasos, Kos, Pergamon
and Akragas (Agrigento, Sicily).
The cult of Asklepios had a mysterious and mystical association with snakes (as did those of other Greek deities such as Athena
), many of which were kept at the sanctuaries. Therapy at the healing centres included the interpretation of dreams.
You can see the types of medical instruments used in antiquity in the photos below
The spread of the cult of Asklepion and the establishment of such healing centres around the Greek world from the late Classical period had important practical aspects. The presence of an asclepieion in an ancient city was the equivalent of a modern hospital for its citizens. It was also a source of prestige as well as considerable income, particularly in the case of Epidauros and Pergamon, to which rich people came from far afield to be cured, and in return paid, or donated as a religious offering, large sums of money and other gifts.
Several locations since time immemorial had been thought of as especially beneficial for the treatment of diseases, due to particular local properties, such as their waters, and the traditional associations they had acquired with deities, nymphs and other supernatural beings. With the scientific advancements of medical theories in Classical and Hellenistic times, particularly at Alexandria in Egypt, the practice of medicine began to be systematized and standardized to a certain extent, and one could speak of a medical industry.
The profession of medicine at these centres was a male preserve, and it seems no accident that other healing deities, such as the health goddess Hygieia, came to be seen as subservient (sons and daughters) to Asklepios, who became the exemplary and primary divine master and patron of the healing arts. The new medical science of Hippocrates and the cult of Asklepios in many places replaced the more ancient local ways.
In Greek and Roman art, Asklepios was usually represented at a mature man with uncombed beard and long hair, parted at the centre, a bare upper torso and right shoulder, with a himation (cloak) hanging from his left shoulder, wrapped around the waist and covering the lower torso and legs. Several surviving statues and fragments are similar to depictions of Zeus and Poseidon, making identification difficult in cases where the gods' other attributes (such as Zeus' thunderbolt or Poseidon's trident) have not been found. Asklepios usually leans on a staff or crutch, around which a snake is entwined. In some instances he stands next to the omphalos, a symbol of his father Apollo at Delphi.
Several ancient statues and heads of various types discovered since the Renaissance have been identified as depictions of Asklepios, although many of these identifications are uncertain. In a number of cases the so-called Asklepios statues now in museums are the result of restorations, often from parts of different ancient statues and with modern additions.
A remark by the 2nd century AD travel writer Pausanias
indicates that even in antiquity there was much confusion about the identification of statues:
"At Panopeus there is by the roadside a small building of unburnt brick, in which is an image of Pentelic marble, said by some to be Asclepius, by others Prometheus. The latter produce evidence of their contention. At the ravine there lie two stones, each of which is big enough to fill a cart. They have the color of clay, not earthy clay, but such as would be found in a ravine or sandy torrent, and they smell very like the skin of a man. They say that these are remains of the clay out of which the whole race of mankind was fashioned by Prometheus."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 10, chapter 4, section 4
|References to Asklepios|
on My Favourite Planet
|The Asclepieion archaeological site, Pergamon.
With photos and articles about Asklepios,
Hygeia, Telesphoros and Galen of Pergamon:
Pergamon gallery 1, page 35
Detail of a statue of Asklepios from the
Sanctuary of Asklepios, Epidauros, Greece.
Marble head of Asklepios.
Late 4th century BC. From Ano Apostoloi,
Kilkis (ancient Morrylos), Macedonia, Greece.
The head may be from the cult statue of the
god at the sanctuary of Asklepios in Morrylos.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
See a statue of Asklepios
from Morrylos below.
Bronze figurine of Asklepios.
Around 200-160 BC. Said to have
been found on a Greek island.
Inv. No. GR 1873.8-20.41 (Bronze 851).
The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros from the theatre.
|The Sanctuary of Asklepios covers a large area in a broad valley, around 13 kilometres inland from the ancient port city of Epidauros (today, the seaside village Palaia Epidavros) in the Argolid, northeastern Peloponnese. Hardly one stone stands on another from the ancient buildings, apart from the large theatre, which according to Pausanias (Description of Greece, 2, 27, 5) was designed by Polykleitos the Younger. Built around 340-320 BC, it is one of the best preserved ancient Greek theatres and famous for its perfect acoustics. Its 34 rows of seating were extended to 55 during the Roman period, giving it a seating capacity of around 15,000. Ancient Greek drama is still performed here in the summer as part of the annual Athens and Epidaurus Festival.
The important and atmospheric archaeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has its own small museum, including inscriptions and architectural fragments, although many of the best artefacts (e.g. the statue of Asklepios and a statuette of Asklepios as young man, below) are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, where most are not even on display.
The sanctuary of Asklepios and Hygieia in Athens, below the walls of the north side of the Acropolis.
|The Athenian asclepieion, the sanctuary of Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia, was founded in 420/419 BC by Telemachos, an Athenian citizen from the deme of Acharnai. It is located to the west of the Theatre of Dionysos, on the south side of the Acropolis, between the Peripatos circuit path around the foot of the Acropolis and the rock itself.
The sanctuary contained a small Ionic temple, an altar, a bothros (pit for sacrifices) and two halls: the abaton, a Doric stoa (see photo below) used as an incubation hall in which visitors slept and were cured by the god who appeared in their dreams; and the katagogion, an Ionic stoa which provided accommodation for the priests and visitors.
Pausanias briefly mentioned the sanctuary when describing the way from the theatre to the Acropolis:
"The sanctuary of Asclepius is worth seeing both for its paintings and for the statues of the god and his children. In it there is a spring, by which they say that Poseidon's son Halirrhothius deflowered Alcippe the daughter of Ares, who killed the ravisher and was the first to be put on his trial for the shedding of blood."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 21, section 4.
The sanctuary of Asklepios and Hygieia in Athens: reconstructed
columns and part of the entablature of the Doric stoa.
Statue of Asklepios from the
Sanctuary of Asklepios at
Epidauros, Peloponnese, Greece.
Pentelic marble. Circa 160 AD.
The statue belongs to the "Este type"
copies of a 4th century BC original.
National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 263.
Plaster cast of a marble statuette of
Asklepios in his youth, from the
Sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas, Epidauros.
Epidauros Archaeological Museum.
The original is in the
National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. NAMA 1809.
Restored marble statue of Asklepios.
From Rome. 2nd century AD. 
Height 117.5 cm, with plinth 124.5 cm.
Height of head 19 cm.
Antikensammlung, Berlin State
Museums (SMB). Inv. No. Sk 71.
The room in the Pergamon Museum
in which it usually displayed is closed
until 2019 due to rebuilding work.
Marble statue of Asklepios.
2nd century AD Roman copy of a Hellenistic Greek original. The right arm and snake-entwined staff are modern additions.
There were several places in Rome
dedicated to the cult of Asklepios,
including the Esquiline Hill and the
Tiber Island (see below).
Palazzo Altemps, National Museum
of Rome. Inv. No. 8645.
Boncampagni Ludovisi Collection.
Marble statue of Asklepios of the "Giustini type",
named after a torso of the god now in the
Capitoline Museums, Rome .
Late 2nd century AD reworking of an early
4th century BC Greek original attributed
to Alkamenes. Found on the Tiber Island,
Rome, the location of the city's first
sanctuary of Asklepios (see below).
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Inv. No. 6360. Farnese Collection.
Restored marble statue of Asklepios
of the "Giustini type".
The Roman period head, mid 2nd century AD,
and the body are from separate statues.
Both have been extensively restored.
Purchased in Rome in 1766 by Ludovico
Bianconi for Friedrich II of Prussia. Height
with modern base (Carrara marble) 213.5 cm.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 69.
See a 19th century copy of this statue
in Sanssouci, Potsdam below.
|Marble statue of Asklepios of the "Giustini type", with the omphalos at his feet.
From Kabia (Καβαια) on the Sangarios river, Bythinia (Geyve, Sakarya province, Turkey).
Roman period, 1st century AD. Described on the museum label as "statue of male".
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 4910 T.
|Marble statue of Asklepios of the "Giustini-Neugebauer type", with the omphalos at his feet.
From Syracuse (Greek, Συράκουσαι; Italian, Siracusa), Sicily. Roman period,
2nd century AD, copy of an early 4th century BC Greek original. Height 111 cm.
Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse, Sicily. Inv. No. 696.
|Found on 7th December 1803 in the area of the so-called "Nymphaeum of Venus", near the hospital, in Achradina, a walled coastal district of ancient Syracuse north of Ortygia, which contained the agora and a temple of Asklepios. It was unearthed by the Catanian archaeologist and natural historian Saverio Landolina Nava (1743-1814), who was the Royal Custodian of Antiquities for the areas of Val Demone and Val di Noto in southeastern Sicily. His discovery of this statue and that of the "Venus Landolina"  just a month later, on 7th January 1804, excited local public interest in the ancient history of Syracuse and helped spur initiatives to form an archaeological museum in the city.
See: Santino Alessandro Cugno, Il collezionismo archeologico siracusano tra XVIII e XIX secolo e la nascita del primo Museo Civico, page 63. At academia.edu.
Part of a colossal statue of Asklepios of the "Mouynchia type".
Luna marble (northern Italy). 1st - 2nd century AD, Roman period
copy of a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original. From the Isthmus
area of Ortygia, Syracuse, Sicily. Height 150 cm.
Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse, Sicily. Inv. No. 737.
|The statue was found among other antiquities during the excavation of the Spanish Walls of Ortygia in 1560, and was kept until 1810 in the Castello Maniaca. Since the identity of the statue was unknown (Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes and Timoleon were suggested), it was named "Don Marmoreo". The Spanish inscription on the chest commemorates the dedication of the castle to Sant Iago (Saint James), and of the four angular towers to the patron saints of the city (Peter, Catherine, Philip and Lucia), as well as the granting of permission to fire cannon salvos during Sant Iago's festival.
A plaster cast is on display in the Castello Maniaca, Ortygia, Syracuse, made for the exhibition to celebrate the restoration of the castle in 2008. The construction process included cooperation between archaeologists and information technicians from Catania University to create a 3D model of the fragile sculpture using laser scanning techniques.
Unfinished bust of Asklepios or Serapis from the Asklepieion of Delos.
Delos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. A 4023.
|The Asklepios cult arrived at Delos around 100 years after it was established in Athens. The Delian Asklepieion was built between the end of the 4th and the mid 3rd centuries BC, at the Bay of Fourni on the west coast of the island, quite a way south of the Sanctuary of Apollo and the residential areas. The area has not yet been thoroughly excavated, but ruins have been discovered of a propylon, an oikos, and a Doric tetrastyle temple.
There was also a small sanctuary for Esmun-Asklepios, one of the Syrian-Greek syncretic deities, including Baal-Poseidon and Astarte-Aphrodite, worshipped by a guild of merchants, shipowners and warehouse owners from Beirut, at their guildhouse, known as "the House of the Poseidoniastai of Beryttos" (or "Koinon of the Poseidoniasts of Beirut", first half of the 2nd century BC), north of the Sanctuary of Apollo. (See also a statue group of Aphrodite, Eros and Pan from the house, on the Pan page.)
Upper part of a marble statuette of Asklepios.
From Ephesus. Roman period.
Izmir Museum of History and Art.
Fragment of a marble statuette of Asklepios
with a red himation.
2nd half of the 2nd century BC
after a model of the 4th century BC.
Height 40.5 cm, width 21 cm, depth 10.5 cm.
Found on the Dodecanese island of Kos,
one of the most important asclepieion
healing centres and the birthplace of the
most famous ancient Greek physician
Hippocrates (Ἱπποκράτης, circa 460-370 BC).
Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden.
Inv. No. Hm 215 (formerly ZV 966). Purchased
in Munich in 1891 from a private individual.
See also a head of Asklepios from Kos below.
Fragment of a marble statue of Asklepios
holding a snake-entwined rod.
1st century BC. From Ano Apostoloi, Kilkis
(ancient Morrylos), Macedonia, Greece.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Fragment of a marble statue of Asklepios.
2nd century AD. From the Athens Agora.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 1068.
Terracotta votive figurine of
a statue of Asklepios from
the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Reverse side of a bronze coin from Pergamon
showing Asklepios holding a snake-entwined
staff and Artemis of Ephesus.
Inscription: EΠI CEΞ KΛ - CEIΛI/ANO/
V - ΠEPΓ-AMHN-ΩN // KAI EΦECIΩN / OMON.
Minted during the reign of Emperor Gallienus,
(253-268 AD) by the Asiarch (magistrate)
Sextus Claudius Silianus. The obverse side
shows a bust of Gallenius, facing right,
wearing a laurel wreath and cuirass, and
the inscription: AVT K Π ΛIKI - ΓAΛΛIHNOC.
Diameter 37 mm, weight 27.26 grams.
Numismatic Collection, Bode Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. 18200358.
Acquired in 1873 with the entire collection
of General Charles Richard Fox.
Marble head of a statue of Asklepios.
From Rome, around 400 BC.
Height 29.8cm, width 22 cm, depth 20 cm.
Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. Sk 1832.
Purchased on the art market in 1829
by the Vereinigung der Freunde
der antiken Kunst as a gift to the
Antiquities Collection in Berlin.
A terracotta mask of Asklepios.
From the Asklepieion of Ancient Corinth,
Greece. 4th century BC.
Corinth Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. V40.
A larger than life-size marble head of
a colossal cult statue of Asklepios.
From the Cycladic island of Melos, Greece.
Hellenistic, around 325-300 BC.
Parian marble. Height 60 cm.
Found in the mid nineteenth century at the
asklepieion on Melos, along with two votive
inscriptions dedicated to Asklepios and
Hygieia and a votive relief of a leg. It was
acquired by the French diplomat and
collector Louis, Duke of Blacas.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1867.5-8.115
(Sculpture 550). Purchased with the
entire Blacas collection in 1867.
Marble head of Asklepios from a small statue.
From Kos. Circa 200-160 BC.
Inv. No. GR 1868.6-20.3 (Sculpture 1519).
Larger than lifesize marble head of Asklepios.
1st century AD, Augustan period copy of a 2nd century BC
Hellenistic original by Phyromachos. Found in 1804 at
the ampitheatre in Neapolis, Syracuse, Sicily.
Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum,
Syracuse, Sicily. Inv. No. 693.
Small marble head of Asklepios from Crete.
Pentelic marble. 2nd century AD.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 162.
Small marble head of Asklepios.
From the Yortanli Dam salvage
excavation, Allianoi, near Pergamon.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Marble figurine of enthroned Asklepios
from the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
A marble statuette of enthroned Asklepios.
From Corinth. 3rd - 4th century AD.
Height with base 42.3 cm,
height of figure 34.8 cm.
One of nine statuettes of deities found in 1999
in the room of a late Roman house, named the
Panayia Domus by archaeologists, southeast
of the Asklepieion of Ancient Corinth. 
It is thought that the worship of Asklepios
may have survived at Corinth well into the
Christian era, and although the area around
the Asklepieion was used as a cemetery in the
6th-7th century, the site of the temple was not.
The red colour on the statuette was a base
for gold leaf; they may have been small scale
replicas of chryselephantine cult statues.
Corinth Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. S 1999 008.
See also a terracotta mask of Asklepios
from the Asklepieion of Ancient Corinth below.
|Marble statue labelled as "Asclepius of the Anzio Type".
Late 2nd century AD copy of a late Hellenistic creation
inspired by a Greek original of the 4th century BC.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Inv. No. 6265. From the Farnese Collection.
|Although the statue is described as depicting Asklepios, an old catalogue of the Naples museum (around 1897) noted that both arms of the figure have been altered by modern restorers, including the addition of a new right forearm, hand and the thunderbolt, the characteristic attribute of Zeus. The join at the right elbow where the new forearm has been added can be seen in the photo above.
It was later described in the officially sanctioned guide as: "Statue of Zeus with the thunderbolt. The arms are restored. This frequently recurring type is derived from Phidias. Poor execution."  The assumed connection with Pheidias is based on the identification of the restored figure as Zeus.
According to Johann Joachim Winckelmann, four similar statues, also dated to the 2nd century AD, were found together in Anzio (ancient Antium) in 1718, during excavations funded by Cardinal Albani from 1711. Two of the works, made of dark grey bigio morato marble, were formerly in the Albani Collection and are now Capitoline Museums. After their discovery, one was restored as Asklepios with a staff and snake (photo, right), while the other (see photo below), like the statue above, was given a new right forearm and hand with the thunderbolt of Zeus, although it was described in the inventory of the Albani Collection as Aesculapius . The entire straight left arm can be seen, whereas in the other two statues the left arm is bent, with the lower forearm behind the figure's back.
The three statues are almost identical, clearly depicting a god in Classical style, with the same hairstyle, beard, sandals, pose and stance, and with the himation (cloak) draped and folded around the body in the same way. The museums' labelling makes no mention of these alterations, and so far I have found no useful recent literature concerning these statues, but it appears that all three may have depicted Asklepios, but two have been restored as Zeus.
Unfortunately, at the time of my recent visit to the Capitoline Museums, the Asklepios statue (right) was on a long loan to another museum, so I have had to used a very old photo.
Bigio morato marble statue
of Asclepius, Anzio Type.
From Anzio (Antium), Italy.
The right hand, part of the staff
and snake were added during
Great Hall, Palazzo Nuovo,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC 659.
From the Albani Collection.
|Bigio morato marble statue of "Zeus" (see above) holding a thunderbolt.
Found in Anzio in 1718. 2nd century AD version of an early Hellenistic
original of the 4th century BC. Height 141 cm.
The statue stands on an ancient circular marble base with an
Archaistic relief depicting Hermes, Apollo and Artemis (see Hermes).
Great Hall (Salone), Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC 655. From the Albani Collection.
Marble relief showing Athena and probably Asklepios on a stele
with part of an Athenian honorary decree granting the title of
proxenos (consul) and benefactor to a citizen of Croton, south Italy.
From the Acropolis, Athens. Around 330 BC.
Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. NAM 2985.
(Previously in the National Archaeological Museum)
Inscribed marble stele with a votive dedication to Apollo and Asklepios.
From Kalamoto (ancient Kalindoia), Thessaloniki prefecture, Macedonia,
Greece. 334/333 - 304/303 BC.
Dedicated by the priest Agathanor,
son of Agathon. 39 verses have
survived, mentioning the names
of all the priests from 334/333 BC
onwards in chronological order.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Part of a marble block with an inscription referring to
the sanctuary of Asklepios at Veria, Macedonia, Greece.
Second half of the 3rd century BC.
Veria Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. L 702.
Marble relief showing the healing god Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia,
goddess of health. In some versions of myths Hygieia is the wife of Asklepios.
Classical, last quarter of the 5th century BC. From Therme, Macedonia, Greece.
Therme was the ancient name of Thessalonike (Thessaloniki) before it was
renamed by Cassander, king of Macedonia, in 316/315 BC.
See History of Stageira and Olympiada part 6.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 109 T. Cat. Mendel 51.
Marble votive relief in the form of a naiskos (small temple), showing the Asklepios and Hygieia.
From Attica, Greece, 330-320 BC.
The head of a coiled snake appears from beneath the god's throne.
To the right is a family of worshippers, the dedicators of the relief.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 685.
Acquired in 1827 from the Ingenheim Collection.
Terracotta votive relief of a family with children (left) standing before Asklepios (centre),
his sons and Hygieia (far right). 400-301 BC. Height 40 cm, width 58 cm.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1984.111.
Inscribed votive relief dedicated to Asklepios
and his daughter Hygieia.
Unknown provenance. 4th century BC.
The first letters of the name Asklepios, ΑΣΚΛΗΠ
(ASKLEP) are inscribed above the figures.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
A small statue of a child seated on the ground, holding a bird with both hands,
as if strangling it. Possibly a symbolic representation of one of Asklepios' children.
3rd century BC. From the village of Imeros, near Lake Ismaris, Macedonia, Greece.
Kavala Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. Λ80.
Marble statue group of the children of Asklepios:
Machaon, Hygieia, Aigle, Panakeia, Akeso and Podaleirios.
From the Great Baths, Dion, Macedonia. 2nd century AD.
Dion Archaeological Museum.
Marble head of a female member
of the family of Asklepios.
From a marble basin for holy water
in the Great Baths, Dion, Macedonia.
2nd century AD.
Dion Archaeological Museum.
Marble statue of Hygieia
from Dion, Macedonia.
1st century AD.
Dion Archaeological Museum.
|Marble statue of Hygieia.
Roman period copy after a Greek original dated 290 BC. Pentelic marble.
From the Horti Maecenatiani. Found in 1878 in the area of the Auditorium, Rome.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 1099.
Marble statue of Hygieia.
1st - 2nd century AD. Thasian marble.
Found in 1936 in the Baths of the
Sette Sapienti, Ostia.
Ostia Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 115.
|Marble statue of Asklepios and his son Telesphoros. The detail
on the right shows a close-up of the diminuitive daemon.
Excavated in 1906-1907 at the Faustina Baths, Miletus (Balat,
Aydin, Turkey). Height 213 cm; height of Telesphoros 81 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 1995.
Cat. Mendel (Volume I, 1912) 124.
|The statue depicts the lofty god Asklepios carrying his symbol of a staff (sometimes shown as a crutch), around which a snake is entwined. A relatively tiny Telesphoros is shown leaning against his father's protective garment, looking up to him, and clutching implements which are probably medical instruments. The implication of this image seems to be that Telesphoros was his father's little helper.
Telesphoros (Τελεσφόρος, "the accomplisher" or "bringer of completion"; Latin, Telesphorus), a son of Asklepios, was worshipped at asclepieions as the helper in recovery from illness. In stark contrast to the powerful images of his father Asklepios and his ancient health-conscious sister Hygieia, Telesphoros is always depicted as a small, sad-looking child or dwarf wearing a hooded cape or conical cap and a short tunic.
This very un-Greek representation of a deity has led to theories that this late-comer to Hellenic religion was of foreign origin, possibly Thracian, Phrygian or Celtic, and that he was originally one of the hooded spirits (genii cuculati), daemons associated with fertility and death. Images of him are also known on the Danube. His worship may have been introduced to the Greek world by the Galatians when they invaded Anatolia in the 3rd century BC. He became associated with Asklepios by the Greeks of Pergamon and other Asklepios centres in Anatolia (Asia Minor).
The spread of his cult westwards to Greece and the Roman Empire was accelerated following his adoption by Epidauros in the 2nd century AD.
The 2nd century AD Greek travel writer Pausanias (Παυσανίας), who may himself have been a doctor, and who spent some time in Pergamon, mentioned Telesphoros in his description of the sanctuary of Asklepios at Titani (Τιτάνη Κορινθίας), in Sikyonia, near Corinth. He tells us that Asklepios' son was known at Titani as Euamerion (Ευαμεριων, prosperous), and at Epidavros as Akesis (Ακεσις, Cure).
"Alexanor, the son of Makhaon, the son of Asklepios, came to Sikyonia and built the sanctuary of Asklepios at Titane... There are images also of Alexanor and of Euamerion; to the former they give offerings as to a hero after the setting of the sun; to Euamerion, as being a god, they give burnt sacrifices. If my conjecture is correct, the Pergamenes, in accordance with an oracle, call this Euamerion Telesphoros, while the Epidaurians call him Akesis."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 2, Chapter 11, Sections 5-7. At Perseus Digital Library.
Figurine of Telesphoros,
wearing a long hooded cloak,
from the Yortanli Dam salvage excavation, Allianoi.
Terracotta figurine of Telesphoros, wearing a long hooded cloak, from Amphipolis, Macedonia, Greece. Roman period. Height 18.1 cm.
Museum. Inv. No. E 612.
|The existence of an Asclepieion at Amphipolis has been proved by the discovery of numerous votive offerings, including figures of Asklepius and Telesphoros, a statue of Hygieia and part of a 4th century BC inscription bearing its sacred law (lex sacra). The inscription states the requirements for incubation in the Asclepieion, the payment of one drachme to the priest by visitors to the sanctuary, the offering of voluntary sacrifices, the portion given to the god on the altar, and the offering of sacrifices to other gods in this sanctuary (possibly Apollo, Hygieia and Telesphoros). However, as with many of the city's other sanctuaries, its exact location has not yet been discovered.
Bronze statuette of Telesphoros
from the Ancient Agora, Athens.
3rd century AD.
Agora Museum, Athens.
Priapic ceramic lamp in the form of
Telesphoros, from the Ancient Agora,
Athens. 2nd century AD.
Agora Museum, Athens.
Terracotta figurine of a male in a hooded cloak, probably Telesphoros.
From the Necropolis of the ancient city of Hermione (near Epidavros), Peloponnese, Greece.
1st - 2nd century AD.
Nafplion Archaeological Museum.
"Lanternarius", statue of
a boy with a lantern.
Acquired in Rome 1909.
Altes Museum, Berlin.
|This small statue, of unexact provenance, was acquired in Rome in 1909, as part of a lot of 80 artefacts from rural villas in the modern municipalities of Boscoreale, Boscotrecae and Scafari, near Pompeii, which were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
It has been identified merely as "Lanternarius, statue of a boy with a lantern". Having seen this statue several times, I can't help thinking that this sad-looking lad may well be Telesphoros, the ancient esoteric equivalent of Florence Nightingale, "the lady with the lamp".
|A fragment of an inscribed marble base with an ex-voto dedication
to Asklepios and a relief of Telesphoros, son of Asklepios.
From Thasos, Greece. 2nd-3rd century AD.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
|The crude image was roughly chiselled on the base of an ex-voto dedication to Asklepios. An ex-voto is the fulfillment of a vow; the person who had it made is keeping their promise to Asklepios for a recovery from illness. Telesphoros is depicted in thanks for his part in the healing process. The poor quality of the workmanship suggests that the donor was anything but wealthy.
Although the site of the asclepieion in the main city on the northern Aegean island of Thasos (Θασος) has not yet been located, votive offerings to Asklepios have been found near the Caracalla Arch, west of the agora. As in other places in the Greek world, the worship of Asklepios became very popular here from the 4th century BC. The special local interest may have been a result of the four-year residence of the renowned physician Hippocrates of Kos (Ἱπποκράτης, circa 460-370 BC) on the island at the end of the 5th century BC. The Thassians held a festival in honour of Asklepios, known as the Great Asklepeia, during which people presented offerings to the god in the hope of recovery from various illnesses.
Copy of a marble head of Hippocrates
of Kos from an over life-size statue.
Second half of the 2nd century BC.
Found near the Odeion on his home
island of Kos, Greece.
Replica in the National Archaeological
Museum, Athens, of the original in
the Archaeological Museum of Kos.
Part of an unfinished marble
statuette of Asklepios from Thasos,
Probably Roman period.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
An unfinished marble statuette of a
seated male figure, probably Asklepios.
From Thasos. 2nd century AD.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
An inscribed bronze votive plaque with a snake, from
the Pergamon Asclepieion. 3rd - 2nd century BC.
Antikensammlung, Berlin State Museums (SMB). Inv. No. AvP VII, 31394.
Bronze votive with ears on a plaque with a punched inscription:
"Kallias has hereby fulfilled his vow to Asklepios."
From the Pergamon Asclepieion. Roman period, 2nd century AD.
Antikensammlung, Berlin State Museums (SMB). Inv. No. AvP VII, 31393.
Ancient medical instuments found at the Asclepieion in Allianoi, near Pergamon.
From the Yortanli Dam salvage excavation, Allianoi.
Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Marble gravestone or votive relief for a heroized doctor. Around 50 BC - 50 AD.
Near the doctor's head is an open box or cabinet with surgical instuments
(see close-up below).
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 804.
Acquired in 1841 from the Grimani Collection, Venice.
The surgical instuments in the frieze of the heroized doctor above.
Detail of the Roman travertine facade in the form of a ship's prow at the northeast end of the
Tiber Island, Rome. To the left is a relief of a figure, perhaps Asklepius, with a rod entwined
by a snake (see photo below). To the right is a high relief of the head of a bull or ox.
|The Romans probably first learned about the cult of Asklepios (Latin, Aesculapius) from contact with the Greek cities of Magna Graecia (southern Italy).
According to legend, during a plague in Rome an embassy was sent to the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epdauros around 293-291 BC. The representatives returned to Rome with a sacred snake which escaped from its basket and was discovered on the Insula Tiberina (Tiber Island; Italian, Isola Tiberina). It was decided to found a sanctuary of Asklepios there, and a temple was dedicated in 289 BC. The island has been associated with healing ever since, and the Hospital of the Fatebenefratelli, founded in 1548, still stands there today.
Other places in Rome dedicated to the cult of Asklepios included a sanctuary on the Esquiline Hill.
The remains of the relief on the travertine facade on the Tiber Island, Rome.
The relief shows the head and shoulders of a male figure with long hair, probably Aesculapius,
and a rod entwined by a snake. The face appears to have been cut or sawn away from the rock.
Inscribed base, probably for a bronze statue, with a dedication to Asklepios
("AESCOLAPIO"), found in the River Tiber, near the Tiber Island, Rome.
Late 3rd century - early 2nd century BC.
The base is one of many votive offerings for Asklepios recovered from
the Tiber, including a large number of ceramic anatomical ex-votos.
Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.
Drawing of a relief of Asklepios from Pola, Istria, by James "Athenian" Stuart (1713–1788).
|"It is of good sculpture, and is placed in the wall of the city near the port: it has the fortune still to be held in veneration by the inhabitants of Pola, who mistake him for St. John the Baptist. The part of his sceptre, round which a serpent is twisted, the usual symbol of this divinity, is mistaken by the good people for the reed and the label, with which St John the Baptist is usually figured; they never pass it without bowing and crossing themselves before it."
James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens, measured and delineated,
Volume IV, Arch of the Sergii at Pola, chapter III, page 17. J. Taylor, London, 1816. At archive.org.
For further information about Stuart and Revett see Athens Acropolis gallery page 12.
The Neoclassical Temple of Aesculapius in the Giardino del Lago of the Villa Borghese, Rome.
|The Ionic temple was commissioned by Marcantonio Borghese, designed by Antonio Asprucci (1723-1808) and built 1784-1790 on an artificial island in the renovated Lake Garden. The original plan had been to build merely a facade to frame a colossal statue of Asklepios found in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Ten other restored ancient statues of gods and muses, including Apollo, Artemis, Hygieia, Victoria (Nike) and Mercury (Hermes), were placed on the pediment and attic. The Greek inscription on the entablature states "ΑΣΚΛΗΠΙΟΙ ΣΩΤΗΡΙ" (Asklepioi Soteri, To Asklepios Saviour).
Following thefts in the 1980s, the surviving seven statues were removed in 1989, restored, placed in storage, and replaced by modern copies.
||Notes, references and links
1. On a statue of Asklepios by Theocritus
The epigram concerns a cedar wood statue of Asklepios by the sculptor Aetion, commissioned by the doctor Nikias of Miletus. See Aetion for further details.
2. Asklepios statue in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin
Around half of the Pergamon Museum, including rooms containing Greek and Roman sculptures and artefacts and the hall of the Pergamon Great Altar, are closed for rebuilding work until around 2019. Some of the exhibits have been moved to the Altes Museum.
Since the reunifiaction of Germany the collections of the Berlin museums have been in a constant process of reorganization, and many objects have been moved more than once from one museum to another. Several objects have only been displayed during special temporary exhibitions.
The smaller than lifesize statue statue, 117.5 cm high (124.5 cm with base), was one of three statues of Asklepios brought to Berlin from Italy in the 18th-19th centuries. This was one acquired by the art dealer Giovanni Ludovico Bianconi in 1766 from the Natali Collection in Rome. It arrived in Potsdam in 1767, where it stood in the Marble Gallery of the Neue Palais from around 1769. On 26 March 1830 it was moved to the Rotunda of the Königliche Museum (Royal Museum, today known as the Altes Museum) in Berlin.
It had been extensively restored in the workshop of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi in Rome, with many parts added, including the head which is from another ancient statue, perhaps of Zeus. The head is thought to be a Roman copy of a Hellenistic orginal. The body of Parian marble (from the island of Paros), is thought to be a 2nd century AD Antonine copy of a 4th century BC Greek original.
See: Alexander Conze, Beschreibung der antiken Skulpturen mit Ausschluss der pergamenischen Fundstücke, page 36. Generalverwaltung, Königliche Museen zu Berlin. Verlag von W. Spemann, Berlin, 1891. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
3. "Giustini type" Asklepios statue
The Giustini type is named after a statue in the Palazzo Nuovo of the Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 1846. Probably made during the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), thought to be a replica of a Greek work of the late 5th century BC. The original work was at first attributed to Alkamenes, on the basis of a brief mention by Pausanias (Description of Greece, Book 8, chapter 9, section 1) of a statue of Asklepios at Mantineia. It was also associated with a statue group of Asklepios and his family at the sanctuary of Asklepios on the south slope of the Athenian Acropolis, also mentioned by Pausanias (Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 21, section 4). According to a more recent theory it may have been made by a Peloponnesian artist between 420 and 380 BC.
A description of the "Giustini type" statue of Asklepios in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6360:
"The god, clad in a himation, lays his right arm (a restoration) on his club, round which a snake is curled. At his left side is a low Omphalos, this being his attribute as Apollo's son. A picture of perfect health, he stands calmly in an attitude that recalls the school of Phidias.
Alkamenes is generally named as the inventor of this type. In 420 B.C. he made a statue of Aesculapius for Mantineia and perhaps a replica of it for Athens where the cult of the god had been introduced from Epidaurus."
Giulio De Petra (and others, as editors), Illustrated guide to the National Museum in Naples, sanctioned by the Ministry of education. page 27. Richter & Co., Naples, 1897 (?). At the Internet Archive.
4. The "Venus Landolina" in Syracuse
"La Venere Landolina" was named after its discoverer, Saverio Landolina Nava. The Asklepios statue has also been referred to as "l'Esculapio Landolina". The now headless statue of the Aphrodite Anadyomene type (Greek, Ἀφροδίτη Ἀναδυομένη, Aphrodite rising from the sea; Italian, Venere Anadiomene), was found in the Bonavia area of Syracuse, south of Ortygia. It has enchanted visitors to the city for over two hundred years, and remains a major attraction in the modern Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 694.
5. Statuettes from the Panayia Domus, Corinth
The domus was destroyed by fire around the late 360s AD. The nine statuettes range in date from the late 1st to the mid 3rd or early 4th century AD. Two are of Asklepios, two of Artemis and the others depict Pan, Herakles (Resting Herakles, Farnese type, with Telephos and deer), Dionysus (with a panther), Europa/Sosandra and Roma.
The other statuette of Asklepios shows him wearing a himation, standing with a snake-entwined staff in his right hand, and a small figure of Telesphoros to his left. Inv. No. S-1999-012A, not on display in the museum. Height with base 20.7 cm, height of figure 18.9 cm.
See: Lea M. Stirling, Pagan statuettes in Late Antique Corinth: Sculpture from the Panayia Domus. Hesperia 77 (2008), pages 89-161. American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).
The article includes good illustrations and detailed descriptions of the statuettes and their archaeological, historical, social and iconographic contexts. Stirling examines the question of whether the room containing the statuettes may have been a domestic shrine, and concludes that the enthroned Asklepios dates to the late 2nd century.
6. The Anzio type Zeus/Asclepius statue in the Naples museum
Giulio De Petra (and others, as editors), Illustrated guide to the National Museum in Naples, sanctioned by the Ministry of education, page 52, No. 499 (6265), "Statue of Zeus with the thunderbolt". Richter & Co., Naples, 1897 (?). At the Internet Archive.
7. The Anzio type Zeus/Asclepius statues in the Capitoline Museums
H. Stuart Jones (editor), A catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome: The sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, pages 272-273, Salone, No. 1, "Zeus standing", and page 278, Salone, No. 5, "Asclepius standing". At the Internet Archive.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums and sites:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Dresden, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum
Potsdam, Neues Palais, Sanssouci
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Corinth Archaeological Museum
Delos Archaeological Museum
Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Epidauros Archaeological Museum and site
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Nafplion Archaeological Museum, Argolid
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Ostia Archaeological Museum
Rome, Barracco Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Altemps
Rome, Isola Tiberina
Rome, Villa Borghese
Italy - Sicily
Syracuse, Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum
Syracuse, Castel Maniaca, Ortygia
Bergama Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Izmir Museum of History and Art
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
A modern plaster statuette of Asklepios
in the window of a pharmacy in Bergama
|Photos and articles © David John|
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