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Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-Century Greece

, 192 pages

7 halftones, 3 line drawings

December 2008



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Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-Century Greece

Between Craft and Cult

Delving deeply into ancient medical history, Bronwen L. Wickkiser explores the early development and later spread of the cult of Asklepios, one of the most popular healing gods in the ancient Mediterranean. Though Asklepios had been known as a healer since the time of Homer, evidence suggests that large numbers of people began to flock to the cult during the fifth century BCE, just as practitioners of Hippocratic medicine were gaining dominance.

Drawing on close readings of period medical texts, literary sources, archaeological evidence, and earlier studies, Wickkiser finds two primary causes for the cult’s ascendance: it filled a gap in the market created by the refusal of Hippocratic physicians to treat difficult chronic ailments and it abetted Athenian political needs. Wickkiser supports these challenging theories with side-by-side examinations of the medical practices at Asklepios' sanctuaries and those espoused in Hippocratic medical treatises. She also explores how Athens' aspirations to empire influenced its decision to open the city to the healer-god's cult.

In focusing on the fifth century and by considering the medical, political, and religious dimensions of the cult of Asklepios, Wickkiser presents a complex, nuanced picture of Asklepios' rise in popularity, Athenian society, and ancient Mediterranean culture. The intriguing and sometimes surprising information she presents will be valued by historians of medicine and classicists alike.

Bronwen L. Wickkiser is an assistant professor of classics at Vanderbilt University.

"Wickkiser covers a huge amount of ground and provides the best synthesis of the current literature on the cult of Asklepios that has been produced."

"Wickkiser, by focusing on a single historical event of some significance, has inserted an intriguing new angle to an old debate... In this respect, the present study provides the basis for further research into the significant questions which it raises."

"Elegantly written, and with a sound command of the original Greek, it provides an excellent introduction to the rise of Asclepius' cult in Athens. It also promotes a clear and challenging thesis."

"This book will be very useful to students and scholars (especially chapters four and five) of medical history, as it is a very clear introduction to the subject and somewhat renews our perspective on the origins of the cult of Asclepios in Athens."

"Wickkiser freshly appraises our best evidence for the importation of the cult—namely, the Telemachus monument—in order to embed the event in both the space of the city and the local dynamics of power."

"I have enjoyed reading this work enormously, and would recommend it to anyone seeking a short introduction to Asklepios, or to anyone teaching a course on ancient medicine or ancient 'religion'."

"A fresh and original contribution to the scholarship on Asklepios."

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