In 430 BCE , and again in 427 , a great pestilence broke out in Athens . At the time that city-state was at the height of its imperial grandeur , the acknowledged leader of much of the Greek world . Its leadership however was being challenged by Sparta and the Peloponnesian League whose invading armies had forced the Athenians on to the defensive behind their Long Walls : there they were pent up in insanitary conditions . In the course of its two outbreaks , the pestilence (we have no way of knowing what it [banner_entry_middle]
was ) killed off a third of the Athenians
Given that medical doctors found themselves utterly powerless against the “plague ” of Athens , their claims to competence in dealing with any illness were thrown further into doubt . Perhaps by coincidence throughout the Greek world by the last third of the fifth century temples dedicated to the healing god , Asclepius , had became hugely popular . In Rome , symptomatic of growing Greek influence in metaphysical matters , a temple dedicated to the god was established in 291 BCE
Throughout the Mediterranean world Asclepian temples continued to attract crowds until their functions were taken over by miracle-working Christian saints and shrines in the fourth and fifth centuries CE . Who then was Asclepius
According to legend , Asclepius was the son of the Greek god Apollo , the same god who had hurtled the darts of killing pestilence against the Greeks around 1200 BCE when they were besieging the city of Troy (as recounted by “Homer ” in the Iliad . Asclepius ‘ mother however was a mortal woman . Given that Asclepius had this link with humankind , after he had fallen out with Zeus and been killed because he had restored a dead man to life without permission , he was elevated into the ranks of the gods
The still-extant walls of temples dedicated to Asclepius at Cos Pergamum , Epidaurus and elsewhere contain plaques commemorating the miraculous cures effected in their precincts . The procedure was for a blind , or crippled , or mentally deranged , or hopelessly afflicted individual to sleep for a night or two in the temple . He or she then dreamed that Asclepius , in one or another of his forms , had appeared and given instructions . The next morning these instructions were interpreted by a priest . According to the commemorative plaques put up by the no longer blind , or the no longer crippled , these instructions had led to a cure . Some of those cured by these miraculous interventions claimed to have been medical practitioners
In the Greek language , the word “iatros ” has a variety of meanings . It might mean someone who had persuaded others that he was a medical doctor . At the time there were no teaching hospitals or standard ways of acquiring a medical education . Though some cities at the end of the classical period had taken to appointing a civic physician , the appointment was made after public disquisition between rival contestants . The man who spoke most logically won out , even though his actual ability to effect cures was possibly non-existent . There… [banner_entry_footer]
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