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7. THE ASCLEPIADAE.

Hippocrates was, according to Plato, an Asclepiad. This raises the very difficult question, who the Asclepiadae were. Its difficulty is typical of several

[p. xlv] Hippocratic problems. Certainty, even approximate certainty, is impossible owing to the scantiness of the evidence.

The old view, discarded now by the most competent authorities, is that the Asclepiadae were the priests of the temples of Asclepius, combining the functions of priest and physician. This view implied that Hippocratic medicine had its origin in templepractice. For a thorough refutation of it see Dr. E. T. Withington's excursus in my Malaria and Greek History1 and his own book Medical History from the Earliest Times.2

Another view is that the Asclepiadae were a guild, supposed to have been founded by Asclepius, the members of which were bound by rules and swore the Hippocratic "Oath." Such is the view of Dr. Withington himself. It is one which is free from all intrinsic objections, but it is supported by the scantiest of positive evidence.

It should be noticed that the term "Asclepiadae" means literally "the family of Asclepius," and it is at least possible that the Asclepiads were a clan of hereditary physicians who claimed to be descended from Asclepius. It would be very easy for such a family to develop into something like a guild by the admission, or rather adoption, of favoured outsiders. In this way the term might readily acquire the general meaning of medical practitioner, which it apparently has in e.g. Theognis 432 :--

εἰ δ᾽ Ἀς1κληπιάδαις2 τοῦτό γ᾽ ἔδωκε θεός2, ἰᾶς1θαι κακότητα καὶ ἀτηρὰς2 φρένας2 ἀνδρῶν, πολλοὺς2 ἂν μις1θοὺς2 καὶ μεγάλους2 ἔφερον.

[p. xlvi] I do not think that it has been noticed what an interesting parallel is afforded by the term "Homeridae." A family of poets tracing their descent from Homer finally could give their name to any public reciter of the Homeric poems.3

1 pp. 137-156.

2 pp. 45, 46 and 378.

3 See e.g. Pindar, Nemeans II. 1.

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