Openings

An asclepeion was a healing temple, sacred to the god Asclepius, in ancient Greece and Rome. Starting around 350 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular. Pilgrims flocked to asclepieia to be healed, slept overnight, and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium.

Asclepeia provided carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing. In the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, three large marble boards preserved the names, case histories, complaints, and cures of about 70 patients. Some of the surgical cures listed, such as the opening of an abdominal abscess or the removal of traumatic foreign material, are realistic enough to have taken place with the patient in a dream-like state of induced sleep known as enkoimesis, similar to anesthesia, induced with the help of soporific substances such as opium.

Since snakes were sacred to Asclepius, they were often used in healing rituals. Non-venomous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. Statues of Hygieia, the goddess of cleanliness, were covered by women’s hair and pieces of Babylonian clothing. According to inscriptions, the same sacrifices were offered at Paros.

Hippocrates is said to have received his medical training at an asclepieion on the isle of Kos. Prior to becoming the personal physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Galen treated and studied at the famed asclepieion at Pergamon.

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