Apollo, the God of Hearing
The Greek fascination with health, fitness and wellness goes a long way. Not only did they give rise to that part of world’s first prominent physicians, such as Hippocrates (460-370 BC) and Galen (129-210 AD), they also pushed for the therapeutic powers of exercise, The world’s first gymnasium was built in ancient Greece, giving it a 3000-year history. To this day, many of the words we use in the world of medicine are derived from Greek: cardio, biology, pancreas, chiropractor, glaucoma, paraplegia…
You remember those students in your class who were good at every subject, plus were good-looking as well? Apollo was one of those. Born to Zeus ‘Roving Eye’ Almighty and the Titan Leto (As powerful as he was, the King of Gods was not a faithful husband to Queen Hera), Apollo became the God of multiple departments: music, poetry, art, archery, sun, light, knowledge and of course, healing.
No surprise that one of India’s most famous hospitals has chosen this name for itself. It was said that he could bring plagues, and take them away. ‘Paen’ was his epithet; prayers in his name were called paeans, and to this day, that’s what people sing when giving thanks.
When doctors read the Hippocratic oath, “I swear, in the name of…” they start by invoking Apollo, and his son and many grandchildren: all of whom carried forward his healing power. More on that, next.
Born to Apollo and a mortal woman, Coronis, Asclepius is hailed as the demigod who spread the science of medicine to humans. Temples built in his name, ‘Asclepieions’, were centres of healing: the injured were treated here, people would also come here to heal spiritually (imagine an olden-day rehab of rest, relaxation and exercise). Remains of these temples can still be seen in Greece.
So great were his healing skills, that humans had stopped dying easily. This disturbance to the natural balance angered the Gods and Zeus struck him down with a lightning bolt. But before he died, he married Epione, the goddess of soothing pain, and fathered nine children, each of whom received a specific trait of healing. Hygieia (from whom we get hygiene) was responsible for prevention of diseases, Panacea was said to have a cure-all, Iaso took care of recuperation, while Machaon was a skilled surgeon.
The Rod of Asclepius, with a snake wrapped around it, is even today used as the symbol for physicians in many parts of the world. (Sometimes wrongly confused with Hermes’ rod wrapped by two snakes.)
A sweet-faced midwife is the last thing you should imagine when you think about the Goddess of Childbirth. Hailed as the best archer, Artemis (Diana, to Romans) was supple and strong, and not interested in taking a man. She was wild, with jet-black tresses, hunting in forests with her hounds. How she came to being the Goddess of Childbirth is an interesting one. You see, she was Apollo’s elder twin sister.
When Zeus had an affair with Apollo and Artemis’ mother, Leto, they invoked the wrath of Hera, who was doing everything in her power to make sure that the twins were not born. To escape Hera, a pregnant Leto took refuge in the island of Delos, where she gave birth to Artemis first. Myth has it that so gifted was she, that immediately after she was born, she helped her mother with giving birth to her younger twin, Apollo.
Later, while asking her father Zeus to grant her wishes: silver arrows -- as opposed to her twin’s golden ones, hunting tunic, hounds and stags, she also asked for the power of making childbirth easier. An experience when she was that young is bound to leave a mark!
Fans of Percy Jackson series will know him as the Wise Trainer of Heroes, at ‘Camp Half-Blood’. Chiron is a centaur, a being with the upper body of a man, and the lower body of a horse. He was born to a sea nymph, Philyra, after the titan Kronos made love to her in the form of a horse. So disgusted was Philyra at baby Chiron’s looks, that she abandoned him. This, however, was the path that would lead him towards being a master of the healing arts.
Because none other than Apollo, the god of healing himself, took young Chiron under his wing, and schooled him in the arts and sciences of healing. Chiron returned the favour, and how. He went on to be a teacher of many Greek heroes and demigods: it was he who taught Apollo’s son, Asclepius, as well as others such as Achilles and Hercules.
Some say that Zeus granted Chiron a permanent place in the stars. Next time in August, look up to the skies for the Sagittarius constellation.
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