Asclepius, marble statuette, Greek, 400-200 BC.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The cult of Asclepius, Greek god of medicine and healing, arose in the 5th century BC. According to legend, Apollo invented healing and the knowledge was pased to his son Asclepius by Chiron the centaur. However, Asclepius was probably a real man whose reputation grew to god-like status after his death. Temples known as 'asklepia' were built to Asclepius throughout the Greek world. The best known was at Epidaurus, near Athens. Sufferers spent the night at the temple and the next day described their dreams and visions of him to the temple priests, who gave them advice. The staff and sacred snake of Asclepius are the symbols of the modern medical profesion.