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
Hippocratic problems. Certainty, even approximate
certainty, is impossible owing to the scantiness of
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
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
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