If you had a snake slithering through your dreams, would you think it a good or bad omen?
In Roman times if you were sick you would welcome the snake as a representation of the healing god, Asclepius, and the interpretive cures of his priests in healing centres called Asclepia. Asclepius was a chthonic god, a god who was once a human, and the son of Apollo. His cult was popular throughout the Greek and Roman world for over 800 years. Hundreds of Asclepia were built, including the large centres at Epidaurus near Athens; on the Greek island of Kos and birthplace of Hippocrates; and in Pergumum in Asia Minor.
The snake was a powerful icon of healing in the ancient world. When a new Asclepion was built, a snake was brought from the god’s birthplace of Epidaurus as a representation of Asclepius. When the cult was brought to Rome during a plague in 293 BC, the snake leapt from the ship traveling up the Tiber and slithered onto an island where a temple and healing centre was built.
Today the snake coiled around Asclepius’ staff is still a symbol of healing, as well as the logo of the Canadian, American and British Medical Associations.