Asclepius is the demigod of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts, while his daughter, Hygieia, is associated with the prevention of sickness and the continuation of good health.
Coronis became pregnant with Asclepius by Apollo but fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus. A crow informed Apollo of the affair and he sent his sister, Artemis, to kill Coronis. Her body was burned on a funeral pyre, staining the white feathers of the crows permanently black. Apollo rescued the baby by performing the first caesarean section and gave it to the centaur Chiron to raise.
Chiron taught Asclepius the art of surgery, teaching him to be the most well respected doctor of his day. According to the Pythian Odes of Pindar, Chiron also taught him the use of drugs, incantations and love potions. Apollodorus claimed that Athena gave him a vial of blood from the Gorgons. Gorgon blood had magical properties: if taken from the left side of the Gorgon, it was a fatal poison; from the right side, the blood was capable of bringing the dead back to life. According to some, Asclepius fought alongside the Achaeans in the Trojan War, and cured Philoctetes of his famous snake bite. Asclepius’ powers were not appreciated by all, and his ability to revive the dead soon drew the ire of Zeus, who struck him down with a thunderbolt. According to some, Zeus was angered, specifically, by Asclepius’ acceptance of money in exchange for resurrection. Asclepius’ death at the hands of Zeus illustrates man’s inability to challenge the natural order that separates mortal men from the gods.
Rising from the logo base of the Hennepin Medical Society is the symbol of medicine, the staff of Asclepius. Grasping the staff and suspended by it are the figures of Asclepius and Hygieia. The original, ancient Hippocratic Oath begins with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods . . .” these figures represent the dynamic pursuit of innovation in medicine.