Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Asclepius at Epidaurus

L. J. Sandlow
George Dunea
Chicago, Illinois, United States


An Athenian seeking a cure for his afflictions in the fourth century BC had the option of visiting several competing sanctuaries, at Delphi, Olympia, or Epidaurus. To reach Epidaurus, the Athenian would bypass Megara and Corinth, then turn south and find himself at the shrine of Asclepius, the son of the god Apollo. This had evolved over the years from a site of religious worship into a compound housing many libraries, gymnasiums, and healthcare facilities.

Patients coming to Epidaurus were accommodated in a building with 160 rooms and underwent various treatments, such as drinking water from the mineral springs, being immersed in cold water, or participating in rituals, baths, and athletic games. Their problems ranged from skin rashes and baldness to abdominal tumors, tapeworms, and disorders of pregnancy. At some stage, they would sleep in a special room where the god would come at night in their dreams and tell them what to do to be cured.

In order to please the visitors of the temple and pay tribute to the gods, the priests at Epidaurus decided in 340 BC to add a stadium to the complex. Built by the architect Polykleitos, it was later expanded to seat some 14,000 people. It became famous for its acoustics, in that even the slightest sound made on the stage could be heard by those sitting high up in the 34th row. After the conquest of Greece by the Romans, the shrine was repeatedly sacked and is now in ruins. The stadium has survived and is currently used for plays, while some of the ancient statues, such as that of Asclepius, are exhibited in a modern museum.

Asclepius is known in ancient Greek religion and mythology as a hero and the god of medicine. Son of Apollo and Coronis, he represents the healing aspect of the medical arts. His daughters are Hygeia, the goddess of cleanliness; Iaso, the goddess of recuperation; Aceso, the goddess of the healing process; Aegle, the goddess of good health; and Panacea, the goddess of universal remedy. Asclepius, along with Apollo, was known as Paean (“the Healer”). The staff of Asclepius, a snake-entwined rod, remains a symbol of medicine today.


Ancient Theatre of the Asklepieion at Epidaurus Ruins of the Sanctuary of Asclepius
Ancient Theatre of the Asklepieion at Epidaurus


Theater and Ruins of the Sanctuary


Statue of Asclepius with his staff Plaque at the Sanctuary of Asclepius
Statue of Asclepius


Plaque at the Sanctuary of Asclepius


Ruins of the Sanctuary of Asclepius
Ruins of the Sanctuary of Asclepius



All photos by L. J. Sandlow



LESLIE J. SANDLOW, MD, is Emeritus Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Education at the UIC College of Medicine. He was a practicing gastroenterologist and served as Senior Vice President for Academic and Professional Affairs at Michael Reese Hospital. He also served as Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Education Affairs at UIC. He has been active in medical education for over fifty years and developed a continuum of programs in medical education from certificate programs to a doctoral program to prepare educators and physicians for active leadership roles in medical education. He has coordinated the development of an online core curriculum for medical and dental residents which is used at over twenty institutions across the United States.


GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief


Summer 2020  |  Sections  |  Travel

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