Mythology Monday: Gods of Healing

Fresco depicting Apollon, Chiron, and Asklepios from 1st century CE Pompeii.
From left to right: Apollon, Chiron, and Asklepios. Naples National Archaeological Museum.

This week's theme is healing. The most powerful God of Healing is Apollon. He sends sudden death and disease but he also helps both gods and mean heal from wounds and illness. Several of Apollon’s epithets characterise him as a healer, such as Apollon Oulios, Apollon of sound health, who grants you good health and Apollon Akesios, Apollon of Healing, who will cure you when you are sick.

But there are other gods who share in a subset of Apollon's power. His son Asklepios famously brought dead people back to life. After his untimely death by Zeus' thunderbolt, Apollon in grief and rage slew the Kyklopes who designed his father’s weapons. As punishment, Apollon was given in servitude to Admetos, the King of Thessaly, a story I retell here. Seeing his son’s pain, Zeus brought Asklepios back from the realm of Hades and made him an immortal god, the patron of all doctors and the god of medicine. He received a cult of his own, the Temples of Asklepios serving as hospitals. Asklepios had several children, among them Panacea (Cure-all), and Hygieia (Health).
But he is not the only healing god associated with Apollon.

In fact, Asklepios learned the art of medicine from Chiron, a centaur raised and educated by Apollon.

"Then he [Apollon] took the child [Asklepios] to the Magnetian Centaur [Chiron], that he teach him to be a healer for mankind of all their maladies and ills."
Pindar, Pythian Ode 3. 5

Chiron in turn raised and educated many famous heroes in their youth, among them Achilles, Apollon's son Aristaios, and Kokytos, whom Chiron had taught medicine and who cared for Adonis when he was wounded by the wild boar.
Chiron was wounded by an arrow dipped in the blood of the hydra, giving up is immortality to end his agony. The healer could not heal himself. 😔

An older god of healing who appears in the Iliad as the Healer of the Gods is Paian. In the Iliad, Paian heals Ares after the latter is injured by Diomedes and Athena through medicine that produces instant relief. Hades is healed in a similar fashion after Herakles' arrow (thankfully without hydra blood) pierces him.
Paian is later reduced to an epithet of both Apollon and his son Asklepios.
A god that is not usually associated with medicine but has a healing aspect is Dionysos.

Dionysos Hygiates, Dionysos the Dispenser of Health, is Dionysos’ healing aspect. In Greek mythology, he originally titled himself Dionysos Iatros, (Dionysos the Doctor), but the Pythia of Delphi declared that he is not a doctor, but rather a dispenser of health. While Apollon ensures the health of the city and the people, Dionysos spreads good health because wine has healing properties, as well as the vegetation he rules over.

Today, the gods of healing are still alive in the Hippocratic Oath:

"I swear by Apollon Iatros (the Doctor), and Asklepios, and Hygeia, and Panakeia (Panacea), and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath."

The original oath was written in Ionic Greek, between the fifth and third centuries BCE. It still influences current medical ethics and alternative modern versions of the oath like the Declaration of Geneva.

If you enjoyed this thread, toss a coin to your writer. I can't heal you but I swear by Apollo Iatros and all the gods and goddesses not to do any harm. 🙏

If you like what I do, support me here. Thank you. 🥰


Title image: Apollon of the Apollon Lykeios type, Chiron, and Asklepios on a fresco from Pompeii, today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

This thread on Mastodon

Article on the Greek Gods of Healing on my Patreon

Erotic retelling of Apollon's servitude to King Admetos: The Locks of Phoibos

Ptolemaios Chennos, New History 190

Forgetting Delphi between Apollo and Dionysus, by Marcel Detienne

Chiron comic strip by Linda Sejic

Chiron and Thanatos comic strip by Linda Sejic

Best Bro Team Chiron and Asklepios by Linda Sejic

Apollon's epithets on

Apollon Iatros

Apollon Akestôr




Further Reading

Ancient Greek medicine before and after Hippocrates: the scientification of medicine by Aristidis Diamantis, Balkan Military Medical Review