Snakes on a Plain
By Quentin McCart

Gods, celebrities and mere mortals gathered yesterday in Abono Teichos to mourn the loss of Asclepius, who Zeus killed in a jealous rage after Hades informed his brother of the treacherous act the doctor committed of raising the dead back to life (Gayley 104, Grene and Lattimore 7). Asclepius, tempted by shiny troy ounces of gold, desired to steal back from the god of the underworld one who was rightfully his (Sandys 191). Great Zeus could not believe the bold act committed by the lowly, temporal Asclepius who defied destiny through his repugnant act, and death came swiftly for the bold doctor by means of a well-aimed thunderbolt from the hand of the father of gods and men (Murray 204).

Most of those in attendance were surprised to learn the funeral would be held in Abono Teichos, expecting the much older home of the doctor, Epidaurus, or even Pergamum. Greek shipping heir and former Paris Hilton boyfriend Paris Latsis was overheard commenting, "Alexander the Paphlagonian really pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes getting them to hold the funeral here. They should have held it in Athens." Latsis did not seem pleased about his journey to Turkey to attend the funeral.

After the associated press reported Asclepius’s deaths, many cities placed bids on the funeral, which included offers of tax breaks, statues, sacrifices to Asclepius, and the mayor of Eleusis even offered revelation into what went on during the Eleusinian mysteries-Asclepius being one of the mysteries’ most honored initiates (Walton 73), but in the end Alexander convinced Asclepius’s priests that a reincarnation of the doctor would take place in Abono Teichos, if the funeral were held there (Dalziel 90-1). "We were disappointed to not be able to hold the funeral in our city," commented Eleusis’s mayor. "We missed out on a lot of revenue, but we just couldn’t compete with a reincarnation. Plus, I think it’s part of the continuing backlash we have been receiving as a result of our corporate pig farming and all the waste it creates."

Alexander convinced the priests of the reincarnation after coming up with the plan in the town of Chalcedon (Dalziel 90). He then went to Abonou Teichos foaming at the mouth, convincing the town’s citizens to begin constructing a temple for the impending reincarnation and funeral (Dalziel 90). With the help of a python, Alexander purchased in Macedonia, and a goose egg deposited in the temple’s foundation early last week, he rushed to the town center to announce the arrival of the doctor (Dalziel 90-1). The townspeople convinced the imam in the local mosque to call a meeting, then once everyone assembled, went to the construction site where Alexander revealed the egg with a baby snake inside (Dalziel 91). Asclepius, reincarnated, grew to his full-grown, slithery self within a couple of days (Dalziel 91). Glycon, as the reborn Asclepius preferred to be called, then phoned his priests to give them quite specific instructions regarding the funeral of his old self (Dalziel 91).

The cult of Glycon spread quickly and by the weekend an influential Roman official named Rutilianus married Alexander’s daughter, obeying an oracle of the god (Dalziel 91). Monday, during Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s battle with the Marcomanni, he obeyed a prophecy of the cult and tossed into the Danube two lions, but unfortunately still failed to achieve victory (Dalziel 91-2). A rumor spread yesterday at the funeral that Alexander was in talks with city officials to rename Abonou Teichos, Ionopolis, which down the road could very well turn into Ineboli (Dalziel 93).

Those in Epidaurus-who brought the worship of the doctor to Kos (Walton 6)-that were unable to make the trip to Turkey assembled at the sanctuary of Asclepius with a wide assortment of snakes, which they call, "’puffy-cheeked’" (Walton 16) to honor their famed, ancient god of medicine. They gathered around in the temple where statues of many aged heroes had been erected, it being that the "peculiar providence of departed heroes was to heal the sick" (Walton 16). There have been reports from the blogosphere that the Epidauriens plan to have a tomb for Asclepius housed there as well (Walton 27). There is also chatter going around that Epidaurus plans to hold a sacred dog contest where they will choose a team of dogs to guard the false grave of the man-god. A dog already lies under the chair of Asclepius’s great statue there (Walton 32).

Plutus stayed behind in Epidaurus to lead the celebration of the life of Asclepius. It is his story that made headlines a couple of years ago when he "was cured of his blindness by the licking of the tongue of the sacred snakes which lived in the temple of Asclepius" (Benson 185). While he remained at home, many women who had been cured at the shrine attended the ceremony in Abonou Teichos. In fact, some of the more moving parts of the funeral came when the women got up to give their testimony of how Asclepius had helped them.

Cleo told of how she had been pregnant for five years before journeying to Asclepius’s temple in Epidaurus and how after sleeping overnight in the sanctuary gave birth to her five-year-old son, Bobby (Lefkowitz, Fant, 1). Ithmonica of Pellene recounted her emotional tale of how Asclepius came to her in a dream when she went to his temple to ask him to make her pregnant. The good Asclepius of course complied, but since Ithmonica failed to ask anything relating to childbirth, she remained pregnant for three years until she returned to Epidaurus. After that, she gave birth to her beautiful daughter, Monica (Lefkowitz, Fant, 1). The Spartan, Arata, related how her mother went to Epidaurus and after a meeting with the god, in a dream they both witnessed, was healed of her dropsy (Lefkowitz, Fant, 1). That is just a sample of the many women who spoke and told of how Asclepius healed them of everything from tapeworms (Lefkowitz, Fant, 1) to many miracles of producing children for despondent mothers (Lefkowitz, Fant, 1-2).

In Athens many women gathered at the Asclepieum to make sacrifices to the deceased doctor. One lady, Kynno, seemed embarrassed to only have a small rooster to sacrifice saying, "I am not rich, and my well is shallow. Otherwise I would bring an ox, or pig, a fat pig, instead of this plain rooster" (Davenport 19). Those in attendance seemed nonplussed at the woman’s pleading, one lady in attendance said, "I think a rooster is a pretty good sacrifice." Others mentioned that the cock was "peculiarly sacred to the god" (Walton 80) and it was certainly a means by which some could be cured as is indicated by the worship of Asclepius in Boeotia (Walton 97). In a moving speech at the temple in Athens, Plato called Asclepius, "the ancestor of the Athenians" (Walton 27).

In Pergamum a cult is already emerging that is not making a hero out of Asclepius as at Athens (Walton 28-30), but is actually blending the worship of the great doctor with the worship of Great Zeus (Dalziel 96). Pergamum is located in northwest Turkey and is home to one of Asclepius’s most famous followers, Aelius Aristides (Philips 23). The often sick, twenty-six year old rhetorician sent a letter to Abonou Teichos to be read at the funeral. The epistle retold the story already made famous by last year’s epic movie, "Aelius and Asclipeus," based on Aristides’s novel Sacred Tales (Wickkiser 20) about how upon becoming sick in Smyrna he traveled to Hellespont, being nourished by only milk, then contracted asthma and terrible fevers before returning to Rome (Phillips 24). In Rome the doctors could not heal him, he became deaf and could not stand. He decided to go back home to Smyrna in the dead of winter, but the doctors could not help him there either (Phillips 25). Finally Asclepius appeared to him and commanded him to go the hot springs and from there to Pergamum. He says he intends to remain there for seventeen years (Phillips 25).

The temple at Pergamum was founded in the fourth century, B.C. "by a certain Archias who returned cured from Epidaurus" (Phillips 25). The sanctuary lies in the plain below the city’s acropolis and contains a library, a theater, a treatment center, and a miraculous spring along with the main temple to Zeus Asclepius (Phillips 25, Wickkiser 20). Asclepius’s father, Apollo, daughter, Hygiea, and attendant, Telesphorus-god of convalescence-are also worshipped there (Phillips 25, Murray 207). Of course all Asclepias contain a "temple housing a statue of the god, an altar where sacrifices were performed, a place for incubation, and a source of water" (Wickkiser 17).Aristides kept a meticulous account of his dreams and conversations with the famous doctor (Phillips 25). They include accounts of him going without a bath for more than five years, forcing himself to vomit for more than two years, conducting enemas and even bloodletting (Phillips 26). Every fall in Pergamum, the god-doctor’s followers honor him by covering themselves in mud (Phillips 28-9). No one can forget the comical scene from "Aelius and Asclipius" where the young man, in obedience to the doctor, covered himself in mud and ran around the temple three times (Phillips 29). This is how he described it in Sacred Tales, "’The north wind was unspeakable and the frost increasing; you could not have found clothes warm enough to cover yourself but it pierced through and struck the ribs like a javelin,’" (Phillips 29). Aelius made it clear in his letter that he would miss his god-doctor friend very much.

Athenian priests of Asclepius, who, "were chosen each year in a regular rotation from the different tribes" (Bates 312) conducted most of the funeral ceremony. Lysanias of Melete (Bates 311) started the services by reading the Homeric Hymn to Asclepius, "I begin to sing of Asclepius, son of Apollo and healer of sickness. In the Doatian plain fair Coronis, daughter of King Phlegyas, bare him, a great joy to men, a soother of cruel pangs . . ." (Homer par. XVI). Upon mentioning Coronis, Asclepius’s daughter Hygeia burst into tears. She had lost a father and never knew her grandmother. The god of the sun, Apollo, seemed unmoved by his granddaughter’s outburst. It was he who had sent his sister, Artemis, to burn Coronis on the pyre after his raven told him of the fair lady’s unfaithfulness, the disrespect of cheating on him, a god, with Ischys, a mortal (Gregory 74, Sandys 188-89)! TLC performed their song, "Waterfalls" to remind everyone of the lesson learned from Coronis’s mistake of being "enamored by things otherwhere" (Sandys 187). Those like Coronis put "shame on their home, cast their glances afar, and pursue idle dreams in hopes that shall not be fulfilled" (Sandys 187). Of course Apollo did relent from his anger, saving his unborn son from the death his mother had earned (Sandys 189) and punishing the mouthy raven for bringing the pain and sadness of the truth to his ears (Gregory 75). The ravens, who were once "as white as river-loving swans" (Gregory 72), Apollo turned to black, the color of night (Gregory 75). When asked to comment on the untimely death of Asclepius, all the raven had to offer was the advice he received many years before: "Let my disgrace warn creatures of the air to talk less-if they wish to outwit trouble" (Gregory 73). It was Apollo who then sent his young son to Thessaly to be trained in the art of medicine by the centaur Chiron (Sandys 189). So, while Apollo’s actions toward his mortal lover were certainly harsh, it was Apollo who provided mankind with the wonderful gift of his son who has helped to heal so many.

Asclepius’s devoted daughter, Hygeia-the goddess of preventative medicine, has always been closely associated with her father, a "female counterpart" for the great doctor (Compton 312). She had an important role in relation to her father: providing "a feminine connection for suppliants, serv(ing) as a divinity for healthy worshippers within the cult, and represent(ing) healthful living" (Compton 313). Rarely is she even portrayed alone, instead she often stands behind her seated father in statues and other depictions (Compton 313). Indeed prevention is the key to staying healthy, which explains why the daughter is on equal footing with her proud father (Compton 318). In Attica doctors made sacrifices bi-annually to both Asclepius and Hygiea "for themselves and their patients" (Compton 328).

After the reading of the hymn to Asclepius, Alexander the Paphlagonian,, Glycon’s prophet (Dalziel 93) then released a horde of snakes to slither across the plain of Abono Teichos with Glycon leading them to honor the doctor. Inside the sanctuary, attendees watched the snakes slither gracefully through the field on television monitors set up in the great hall. Halfway through the procession, Glycon hooked a sharp right and made his way into the funeral service followed by all of his serpent friends. Most in the crowd applauded in approval of the reincarnated god’s bold move, but actor Samuel L. Jackson seemed a bit nervous telling his date, "I have had it with these motherXXXXXX’ snakes on this motherXXXXXX’ plain!" Glycon glided up to his prophet, wrapping himself around Alexander’s staff, forming Asclepius’s most popular image, a "caduceus, that has become a symbol of modern medicine" (Wickkiser 17).

The most dramatic moment of the funeral came while the castrated lover of Rome’s Emperor Domitian, Earinus the eunuch, was dedicating a lock of hair, a jeweled box and a mirror to Asclepius (Quinn 4). Venus-the goddess of love and beauty-noticed the teenage boy while on her way through Pergamum, where he was working in Asclepius’s temple (Quinn 4). The goddess was overwhelmed by the beauty of the boy, temporarily mistaking him for one of her cupids. She could not believe the humble means by which this fine boy lived and resolved to give him "a master to match that beauty of yours" (Quinn 4,5). It was "Apollo’s grown son alone" who "was granted the power to feminize the boy" (Quinn 5). Venus rescued the boy from his ordinary life and brought him to the court of Domitian. Earinus came to the funeral to honor the competent surgeon who "gently compels the body, almost unbattered by the wound, to take leave of its gender" (Quinn 5) He started his dedication speech, "O Asclepius, grown son of Apollo, gladly accept this hair, well-praised, which Caesar’s best boy gives you . . ." (Quinn 4) when Zeus of the thunderbolt stormed into the proceeding. A gasp of surprise echoed its way through the audience!

"Where is Apollo?" the great Son of Kronos boomed! It was Apollo, in his anger over the death of Asclepius, who had taken vengeance on Zeus by killing the Cyclopes, the "smiths of Zeus’s fire" (Grene, Lattimore 7). Apollo, seated at the front, nearest his son’s coffin, along with Asclepius’s widow, Epione (Grant, Hazel 78) said "I am here."

"You killed Cyclopes!" Zeus proclaimed, his voice shaking the walls of the recently constructed hall. "For such treachery, you must be punished!"

"Must you interrupt my son’s funeral service for this?" Apollo answered back.

It was quite an amazing exchange between the two gods. Finally, they agreed to take their conversation outside, which did not help too much because of the thunderous nature of Zeus’s voice. Proceedings were held up until the confrontation was resolved. In the end Zeus sentenced Apollo to a year of slavery in the service of King Admetus (Grant, Hazel 78).

Most of the crowd expected more anger and retribution from great Apollo. Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell even clutched each other out of fear. Instead, Apollo reentered the sanctuary with a large grin on his face. During their negotiations over Apollo’s punishment, the bereaving father reasoned with Zeus that although indeed Asclepius disrupted the normal order of things, he had been a valuable asset to mankind, keeping them healthy, which enabled them to continue their sacrifices to the gods on Olympus. "And so," Apollo ended his revelation, "the great god Zeus is allowing me to deify this saint of men, Asclepius." He lifted his son out of his coffin and raised him to the sky, where he presides now "in the form of the Serpent-holder" as the constellation "Ophiuchus" (Grant, Hazel 78).

The muses stood and sang the praises of great Zeus, lord of thunder as the crowd stood in thunderous applause honoring "the god of medicine" who "is represented (in art) as a man of years, bearded, gentle and earnest, draped, and resting on a staff, round which a serpent, as an emblem of rejuvenescence, is coiled" (Murray 205).

Contrary to many Greek tragedies, the breathtaking funeral ended on a high note. Zeus, Asclepius and Apollo were all tremendously honored, as gods should be, even ones born of mortals.

Works Cited

Bates, William N. "New Inscriptions from the Asclepieum at Athens." American Journal

Of Archaeology July-September 1907: 307-314. JSTOR. University of Central

Oklahoma, Edmond. 26 January 2007.

Benson, E.F. "Two Epidaurian Cures by Asclepius." The Classical Review April 1893:

185-186. JSTOR. University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond. 26 January 2007.

Compton, Michael T. "The Association of Hygieia with Asklepios in Graeco-Roman Asklepieion Medicine," Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 2002: 312-329. JSTOR. University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond. 26 January 2007.

Dalziel, D. G., "Alexander the Greater." Greece and Rome February 1936: 90-97. JSTOR. University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond. 26 January 2007.

Davenport, Guy. The Mimes of Herondas. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1981.

Gayley, Charles Mills. The Classic Myths in English Literature and in Art. Lexington, MA: Xerox College Publishing, 1939.

Grant, Michael, and Hazel, John. Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1973.

Grene, David, and Lattimore, Richmond. Euripides I. New York: Pocket Books, 1955.

Gregory, Horace. Ovid: The Metamorphoses. New York: The Viking Press, 1958.

Homer. "To Asclepius," 1. Homeric Hymn. 26 January 2007.

Lefkowitz, Mary R., and Fant, Maureen B. "406. Cures of Women’s Diseases, from The Shrine of Asclepius in Epidaurus," 1-2. Women’s Life in Greece & Rome. 26 January 2007.

Murray, Alexander S. Manual of Mythology. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1946.

Philips, E.D. "A Hypochondriac and His God." Greece and Rome January 1952: 23-36. JSTOR. University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond. 26 January 2007.

Quinn, John T. "Earinus the Eunuch: Martial (from Book 9) and Statius (Silvae 3.4)" (2002): 1-7. Diotima. 26 January 2007.

Sandys, John. The Odes of Pindar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946.

Walton, Alice. The Cult of Asklepios. Ithaca, NY: Ginn and Company, 1894. Google Book Search. 26 January 2007

Wickkiser, Bronwen. "Antiquity’s Greatest Healer," Odyssey. (2005): 15-25, 48.

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