Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 31: Apollo, Snakes & Anti-Aging

September 19, 2021 Patrick Garner Season 2 Episode 31
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 31: Apollo, Snakes & Anti-Aging
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 31. In this episode we drill down into the world of ancient Greek healing.

Was Hippocrates the father of medicine? Hardly. He was preceded by a demi-god, a son of Apollo named Asklepios. 

Asklepios, who flourished 800 years before Hippocrates, specialized in cures that reset a patient’s age. They were akin to today’s breakthroughs in anti-aging, which are typified by researchers such as Harvard’s David Sinclair ...

Narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner, Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series.  Here these divine beings are viewed as if they were anything but mythical... 

(Musical score includes selections from Fesliyan Studios.)

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EPISODE 31-- Apollo, Snakes & Anti-Aging

DREAMS, SNAKES, DARKNESS & THE GOD OF LIGHT, APOLLO ... THESE ELEMENTS WERE THE ORIGIN OF HEALING IN ANCIENT GREECE.

APOLLO, OF COURSE, IS THE ANCIENT GREEK GOD OF LIGHT & DARK. HE SHARED THE TITLE OF SUN-GOD WITH HELIOS.

BUT APOLLO ALSO HUNG OUT IN THE GLOOM OF CAVES & NEAR THE OPENINGS THAT LED TO THE UNDERWORLD.

ONE OF THOSE CREVICES SHELTERED A DREADED PYTHON. APOLLO KILLED IT WITH AN ARROW & — IN ITS PLACE — ESTABLISHED THE FAMOUS ORACLE AT DELPHI ...

THE MORE WE STUDY APOLLO, THE MORE WE REALIZE THAT HE WAS A DIVINITY OF VAST CONTRADICTIONS.

WITH HIS SISTER ARTEMIS, HE SHOT ARROWS THAT UNERRINGLY HIT THEIR TARGETS.  HE WAS OFTEN REFERRED TO SIMPLY AS THE FAR-SHOOTER.

HIS TARGETS WERE THOSE WHO HAD ANGERED THE GODS. OFTEN HE ACTED ON HIS OWN, OFFENDED BY ANY MORTAL WHO BRAGGED ABOUT BEING PARTICULARLY ACCOMPLISHED. 

HE WAS ALSO KNOWN TO SHOOT TOXIC ARROWS TIPPED WITH INCURABLE PLAGUE. THE DISEASES ATTRIBUTED TO APOLLO'S WRATH WERE NUMEROUS.

HE, LIKE ZEUS, WAS A DIVINE EXECUTIONER. HEARTLESS & WITHOUT MERCY ... IF WE ONLY SAW THIS SIDE OF HIM, WE'D VIEW HIM WITH UTTER FEAR.

YET HE WAS REVERED, AS HE WAS EQUALLY CAPABLE OF delivering men from plague & disease. IN THAT CONNECTION — & IMPROBABLY — HE TAUGHT MORTALS THE ART OF MEDICINE.

ALL OF THE EARLIEST GREEK TEMPLES DEDICATED TO HEALING WERE FOUNDED IN APOLLO'S NAME. 

IT'S CLEAR THAT, DESPITE THE LIVES HE TOOK IN ANGER, HE ALSO TENDED TO THE HEALTH OF THOSE MORTALS WITH WHOM HE WAS PLEASED.

AND TO UNDERLINE HIS COMMITMENT, HE COMPLETED HIS MISSION THROUGH HIS SON ASKLEPIOS BY CREATING HEALTH CENTERS THROUGHOUT GREECE ...

THIS IS EPISODE 31 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 143 COUNTRIES & COUNTING. WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, PATRICK GARNER. 

THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T DONE SO ALREADY, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. 

YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THEM & ABOUT THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. 

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST FOCUSES ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE. THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

THROUGH APOLLO'S INSIGHTS & MULTIPLE BLESSINGS, The ancient Greeks initiated the study of HEALING. 

THESE early doctors — ALL PRIESTS OF APOLLO — founded centers across Greece MORE THAN 2700 YEARS AGO.

AND IT'S IMPORTANT TO EMPHASIZE THAT, REGARDLESS OF THESE SANCTUARIES — ALL FOUNDED BY APOLLO'S SON, Asklepios — A RIVAL HEALER APPEARED in the 5th century B.C.

HIS NAME WAS Hippocrates of Kos. HE WAS a Greek physician who was active during the age of Pericles. 

FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS, HIPPOCRATES HAS NOW ECLIPSED THE FAME OF ASKLEPIOS.

IN FACT, TODAY ASKLEPIOS IS ALMOST UNKNOWN, WHILE HIPPOCRATES is COMMONLY considered the father of modern medicine.

WE THINK OF HIM IN REGARDS TO THE Hippocratic Oath, A PLEDGE THAT ALL DOCTORS TOOK UPON STARTING THEIR PRACTICE.

But AS WE WILL SEE, Hippocrates was HARDLY the originator of the healing arts.

IN FACT, The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation, "I swear by Apollo the Healer and by ASKLEPIOS and by all the gods ..."

HIPPOCRATES CLEARLY ACKNOWLEDGED HIS DEBT TO APOLLO & ASKLEPIOS. BUT THOSE WHO LATER PRACTICED IN HIS NAME CHANGED THAT.

AS THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD BECAME FIRST, MORE SECULAR, THEN COMPLETELY CHRISTIAN, THE OATH WAS REVISED TO STRIKE ALL REFERENCES TO THE GODS ...  

LET'S FOCUS FOR NOW ON APOLLO'S SON & THE CREATOR OF MEDICAL ARTS, FOR ASKLEPIOS invented THE ART of healING, NOT HIPPOCRATES.

AT LEAST EIGHT Centuries before THE BIRTH OF HIPPOCRATES, Asklepios FIRST APPEARS IN REFERENCES TO THE TROJAN WAR. 

Homer mentionS HIM In THE Iliad because THE sons OF ASKLEPIOS ARE DESCRIBED AS ACCOMPANYING the Greek army AS physicians. 

in time Asklepios, as a son of Apollo, became worshipped HIMSELF across Greece. HE WAS, AFTER ALL, a DEMI-god. 

WHEN HE WAS YOUNG, APOLLO SENT HIM TO The centaur, Chiron, A FAMOUS HEALER WHO LATER MENTORED ACHILLES.

IN THIS CASE, THE CENTAUR'S ASSIGNMENT was to TEACH Asklepios surgery and herbalism. Asklepios WAS A QUICK STUDY. 

THE ANCIENT POET PINDAR WRITES, "Wise-hearted Chiron taught Asklepios the soft-fingered skills of medicine's lore."

UNDER THE TUTELAGE OF APOLLO & CHIRON, Asklepios BECAME A MASTER HEALER. IN TIME HIS sanctuaries SPRANG UP ALL OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN. 

His powers were believed to be extraordinary, and he used dreams as INSIGHTS INTO healing recommendations. 

AS CENTURIES PASSED, THOSE WHO CAME TO BE HEALED BELIEVED THAT THE PRIESTS ACTING IN HIS NAME WERE ACTUALLY CHANNELING Apollo. 

THEREFORE, THEIR CURES WERE NOT ONLY INSPIRED, BUT DIVINE.

THEIR VOICE WAS THE GOD'S VOICE, & THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS — CHANNELED BY Asklepios OR HIS APPOINTED PRIESTS— were BELIEVED TO BE UNERRING.

Asklepios ... HE WAS DEPICTED IN GREEK ART AS A KINDLY, BEARDED MAN, OFTEN HOLDING A LONG STICK THAT WAS ENTWINED BY A SNAKE.

WHY A SNAKE? According to tradition, Asklepios WAS onCE in the house of A MAN whom he was to cure. 

while he was standing absorbed in thought, a serpent twined Around the HIS staff.

its mouth HELD aN herb whICH WOULD BRING BACK to life ANYone WHO HAD DIED. Asklepios KNEW THE GIFT WAS FROM HIS FATHER, APOLLO.

NOW HE WAS ARMED WITH A MAGIC HERB. THINK OF WHAT DOCTOR'S TODAY WOULD GIVE FOR SUCH A MEDICATION!

Asklepios WAS THE RECIPIENT OF OTHER MARVELOUS OFFERINGS. APOLLO, ALWAYS WATCHING THE BOY, ALLOWED OTHER GODS TO INSTRUCT HIS SON.  

IN ONE INSTANCE, Asklepios received AN UNUSUAL GIFT FROM Athene

SHE GRANTED HIM the blood from the veins of THE GorgoN, A HIDEOUS MONSTER THAT HAD BEEN SLAIN BY ZEUS.

LIKE THE SNAKE'S MAGIC HERB, the GorgoN'S blood possessed the power TO restorE the dead to life. 

ATHENE WARNED HIM TO USE THIS POWER WITH GREAT DISCRETION, REMINDING HIM THAT ZEUS RESERVED SUCH POWERS TO HIMSELF.

YET ONE DAY, LATE IN HIS CAREER, Asklepios STOOD OVER THE BODY OF ONE OF HIS OLD FRIENDS.  HE KNEW HE COULD BREATHE LIFE BACK INTO THE DEAD MAN.

HIS SYMPATHY BLINDED HIM TO ATHENE'S WARNING. USING THE SNAKE'S MAGIC HERB, he brought HIS FRIEND back to life. 

Zeus LEARNED OF THE EVENT & WAS infuriated. as ATHENE HAD SAID, he reserved THE power OF LIFE to himself. 

WITHOUT HESITATION HE SCANNED THE EARTH FOR THE FAMOUS HEALER ... FINDING HIM IN ONE OF HIS SANCTUARIES, ZEUS KILLED Asklepios with a thunderbolt.

Yet, ZEUS' ACTION MAY HAVE ONLY ENHANCED Asklepios’ REPUTATION. HIS influence lasted for AT LEAST ANOTHER THOUSAND YEARS. 

It was so broad that, EVEN 800 YEARS LATER WHEN Hippocrates APPEARED, many considered HIM a mere upstart.

IN REALITY, Asklepios and Hippocrates created two competing schools of medicine. 

Their differences were stark. We might compare them to the practice of a shaman who calls upon spirits, VERSUS A MODERN DOCTOR.

BY THAT I MEAN THAT Asklepios CALLED UPON APOLLO FOR HIS CURES, WHILE HIPPOCRATES FOLLOWED the procedures of a modern clinician. 

ONE CALLED UPON THE DIVINE, WHILE THE OTHER CONDUCTED A SYSTEMATIC STUDY OF DISEASE. AND In time, the school of Hippocrates won out ...

IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM, AS CHRISTIANITY BECAME DOMINANT, Asklepios WAS SHUNTED ASIDE ALONG WITH HIS FATHER. 

BOTH WERE EFFECTIVELY BANISHED AS EMBARRASSING REMNANTS OF A PAGAN PAST.

IN THE VACUUM THE FATHER & SON LEFT, THE SCHOOL OF Hippocrates FLOURISHED & Hippocrates BECAME KNOWN AS THE FATHER OF MODERN MEDICINE.

SNAKES ... 

WE DON'T ASSOCIATE MODERN MEDICINE WITH SNAKES. YET BOTH ASKLEPIOS & HIPPOCRATES USED THEIR IMAGERY.

ASKLEPIOS CARRIED THEIR USE FARTHER. HE VIEWED SNAKES AS ESSENTIAL TO HIS PRACTICE. non-venomous snakeS was often used in healing rituals. 

IN HIS TEMPLES & SANCTUARIES, snakes crawled around freely on the floorS where the sick and injured slept. 

AND snakes were introduced at the OPENING of each OF HIS new templeS throughout the classical world ...

INTERESTINGLY, Products derivED from the bodies of POISONOUS snakes were BELIEVED to have medicinal properties in ancient times.

AT THE TIME, PHYSICIANS WERE AWARE that snake venom WAS fatal if it entered the bloodstream.

YET, Snake venom IN SMALL AMOUNTS appears to have been 'prescribed' in some cases as a form of therapy.

AS I MENTIONED A MOMENT AGO, ASKLEPIOS WAS SO CLOSELY LINKED TO SNAKES THAT HE WAS ALWAYS DEPICTED HOLDING A STAFF WITH A serpent twinING Around IT.

The SYMBOL has been variously interpreted. One view is that it "conveyed notions of resurrection and healing." 

Cornutus, a Greek philosopher FROM the 1st century ad, explained the significance of both the snake & staff, writing:

“Asklepios derived his name from healing soothingly and from deferring the withering that comes with death.

“For this reason, therefore, they give him a serpent as an attribute, indicating that those who avail themselves of medical science undergo a process similar to the serpent.

“THAT IS, they ... grow young again after illnesses and SCRAP old age AS A SNAKE DOES ITS SKIN ..."

YET AS WE KNOW, BY THIS TIME ASKLEPIOS, FOR ALL HIS MIRACLES, WAS ON THE OUT. THE WORLD WAS CHANGING.

AS THE ACOLYTES OF HIPPOCRATES CAST A GREATER & GREATER SHADOW OVER ASKLEPIOS, THEY ADOPTED HIS SYMBOLS, INCLUDING THE SNAKE & STAFF.

TODAY, HUNDREDS OF organizations ACROSS THE WORLD use the rod of AsKlepiOs as their logo, ATTRIBUTING IT UNKNOWINGLY TO THE "FATHER OF MEDICINE," HIPPOCRATES.

BUT LET'S RETURN A MOMENT TO THAT 1st century philosopher ... HE SAID SOMETHING VERY UNUSUAL ABOUT ASKLEPIOS. DID YOU CATCH IT?

THE PHILOSOPHER UTTERED THE PHRASES, 'grow young again' & 'sCRAP old age.' IN MANY WAYS THAT'S AN ASTOUNDING CLAIM.

HE'S SAYING THAT ASKLEPIOS NOT ONLY CURED THE SICK, BUT THAT THE GREEKS BELIEVED HE RETURNED THEM TO YOUTH ... & THAT'S WHAT'S ASTOUNDING ...

TODAY WE'RE SEEING THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING THAT MAY BE VERY SIMILAR. A GROWING NUMBER OF scientists now hypothesize that aging CAN BE CURED. 

A GOOD EXAMPLE IS DR. DAVID SINCLAIR AT HARVARD, A LEADING RESEARCHER INTO ANTI-AGING WHO POSTULATES that aging IS NO MORE THAN a disease.

From the point of view of ancient Greeks, SUCH BELIEFS would have been construed as profane, even blasphemous.

For more than a millennia, Greeks believed that the Three Fates, or Moirai, determined one’s destiny, or fate. 

Their work included determining a person’s precise lifespan. FOR INSTANCE, Klotho, the Spinner, spun the thread of life; 

Lachesis, the Apportioner, measured it; and Atropos, the third SISTER, cut the thread when the person’s time was up. 

Only Zeus had the power to interfere. AND ACCORDINGLY, For an ancient Greek, the concept of anti-aging would have been an unimaginable.

AT BIRTH ALL MEN WERE ASSIGNED A FIXED NUMBER OF DAYS. TO SUGGEST OTHERWISE WOULD BE AN assault on the domain of the Fates.

YET THERE WAS AN EXCEPTION. THE GREEKS LOOKED THE OTHER WAY WHEN IT CAME TO ASKLEPIOS. 

HE COULD TURN BACK THE CLOCK OF AGING. HIS PATIENTS SHED THEIR SKINS LIKE SNAKES. THEY SCRAPPED old age UNDER HIS CARE.

HE WAS A DEMI-GOD & AS SUCH, HE COULD DO AS HE WANTED ...

OF COURSE IT HELPED TO BE APOLLO'S SON. 

I'LL NOTE AS WE CONCLUDE THIS EPISODE THAT The theme of anti-aging has begun to appear in modern culture. 

For instance, my first work of fiction, The Winnowing, describes how the Fates return to the contemporary world to prevent exactly what scientists are now trying to achieve. 

In that work geneticists are on the verge of extending life and even ending death. 

The Fates, long dormant, awaken, aware of the sudden threat to what they consider the proper order.

The three begin to maneuver to modify the output of scientists. Their intent is to twist the test results, to skew the apparent findings in order to halt the inevitable. 

For the Fates, death is inextricably linked to the immutable laws of Gaia. In their divine view, CHANGING THE CLOCK OF human death disruptS millions of years of evolution ... AGAIN, THE NAME OF THE BOOK IS The Winnowing.

Other writers and pundits are focusing on this same theme. Yet for the public, the argument that death can be delayed for decades LARGELY falls into the realm of science fiction ...

THE PUBLIC MAY NOT HAVE CAUGHT UP TO THE RAPID CHANGES WITHIN SCIENCE. STILL, mankind may be on the verge of life extension. 

AND PARADOXICALLY, WHAT WE SEEK TODAY MAY HAVE BEEN A ROUTINE EVENT during the LIFEtime of Asklepios ...

JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY

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A GREAT WAY TO FIND OUT IS TO DOWNLOAD MY AUDIBLE BOOK, HOMO DIVINITAS. YOU CAN GET IT AT AMAZON OR AUDIBLE.

AND THANKS FOR LISTENING ... THIS IS YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER ...