On a remote hilltop in Southern Greece stands one of the most beautiful of all ancient temples. The temple of Apollo at Bassae was built by the architect Ictinus at the expense of the small town of Phigaleia around 425 BC. 1 The cost of building this temple, transporting the marble a considerable distance up the mountain and arranging for carving and decorations of superb quality would have been enormous, certainly, one might imagine, far more than the resources easily available to an unimportant town in the middle of a war. Pausanias, our ancient informant, links the dedication to Apollo Epikourios (the Bringer of Help) with dedications made in Athens at the same time to Apollo Alexikakos (the Warder-off of Evil) in an endeavour to put an end to the great plague. 2 Pausanias' instincts, if not his arguments, were sound. 3 Plague, as the historian Thucydides had already noted, has an impact upon religion as much as upon medicine. Just as a sick individual might have recourse to a god for assistance, so the leaders of a community suffering from a widespread disease might appeal for divine aid or advice. In 426, when there was a recurrence of plague at Athens, the authorities took advice from an oracle and purified the island of Delos, sacred to Apollo, by removing from it all dead bodies, forbidding all future burials on the island and reinstating a long-decayed festival of Apollo and Artemis. 4 At about the same time, the shrine of the daughters of Leos, who had delivered Athens centuries before from plague, seems to have been refurbished after years of neglect. Outside the city, in the deme of Melite a shrine was set up to Hercules Alexikakos (the Warder-off of Evil), whose cult statue was carved by Ageladas, one of the leading sculptors of the day. 5 And, within a decade at most, a completely new healing god had been introduced into Athens, Asclepius. 6
The burgeoning of the cult of Asclepius in the late fifth century BC is arguably as significant a development in the history of medicine as the contemporary ferment of medical theories that were later included in the Hippocratic Corpus. Asclepius came to be seen as the healing god par excellence, and the methods of healing favoured in his cult, principally incubation (seeking visions while sleeping in a temple), have often been regarded by historians as typifying all
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Publication information: Book title: Ancient Medicine. Contributors: Vivian Nutton - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 103.
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