Delving deeply into ancient medical history, Bronwen L. Wickkiser explores the early development and later spread of the cult of Asklepios, one of the most popular healing gods in the ancient Mediterranean. Though Asklepios had been known as a healer since the time of Homer, evidence suggests that large numbers of people began to flock to the cult during the fifth century BCE, just as practitioners of Hippocratic medicine were gaining dominance.
Drawing on close readings of period medical texts, literary sources, archaeological evidence, and earlier studies, Wickkiser finds two primary causes for the cult’s ascendance: it filled a gap in the market created by the refusal of Hippocratic physicians to treat difficult chronic ailments and it abetted Athenian political needs. Wickkiser supports these challenging theories with side-by-side examinations of the medical practices at Asklepios' sanctuaries and those espoused in Hippocratic medical treatises. She also explores how Athens' aspirations to empire influenced its decision to open the city to the healer-god's cult.
In focusing on the fifth century and by considering the medical, political, and religious dimensions of the cult of Asklepios, Wickkiser presents a complex, nuanced picture of Asklepios' rise in popularity, Athenian society, and ancient Mediterranean culture. The intriguing and sometimes surprising information she presents will be valued by historians of medicine and classicists alike.