Medicine was often a crude art in the past. It relied heavily on superstition, prayer, and fate.
Ancient people were not entirely without medical knowledge. Throughout human history they had learned some techniques for avoiding diseases and treatments that were often remarkably effective.
These were mixed, however, with far less useful treatments. While some ancient remedies are almost comedic now, others could serve the opposite of their intended purpose and inadvertently worsen the problems they tried to address.
The Greeks, however, recognized the limits of their medical knowledge. In addition to the gods, they believed that observation, experimentation, and diagnosis were essential elements in finding the most effective cures for illnesses and injuries.
In this pursuit, they were inspired by their legendary first physician. Asclepius became a god so he could continue imparting medical knowledge to mankind.
He was aided by his five daughters, who represented different aspects of his work. Once a medicine was given or a treatment administered, a person’s recovery was in the hands of Aceso, the goddess of healing.
In Greek mythology, Aceso was one of the daughters of the physician god Asclepius.
Asclepius was the son of Apollo. When his mother died, Apollo took an active role in his son’s education.
Asclepius learned divine healing from his father. When he was sent to study under the centaur Chiron, he learned more about herbalism healing.
Asclepius devoted himself to the study of medicine and soon surpassed his mentor’s knowledge. He became the world’s first true physician.
As he traveled the world to learn more about medicine, Asclepius also taught people what he had discovered. This allowed the practice of medicine to spread and the first doctors were educated.
Among these were Ascelpius’s sons. He taught them what he knew and encouraged them to make their own observations to improve on his methods.
As Asclepius grew more skilled and medical knowledge spread further and further, the gods began to take notice of his work. According to one source, Hades worried that the Underworld would stop receiving souls because the physician was so effective at staving off death.
Eventually, however, Asclepius crossed the limits of human ability and infringed on the powers of the gods. Learning the secret of reincarnation from a snake, he gained the ability to bring the dead back to life.
This was in violation of the natural order of the universe and disrupted the essential cycle of life and death. The gods could not allow Asclepius to continue bringing the dead back to life, so Zeus saw no choice but to strike him down.
Apollo, however, was furious over his son’s death. He retaliated by killing the Cyclopes, and was himself punished by Zeus.
When both gods had taken time to reflect, however, Zeus was more open to hearing Apollo’s pleas for clemency. Asclepius had broken a law, but he had also done a great deal to benefit humanity.
Zeus eventually agreed that Asclepius was more helpful than threatening. He agreed to grant him immortality and make him a god of Mount Olympus.
Asclepius became the god of medicine and the patron of doctors. His temples were sites of healing where illnesses were diagnosed through both medical knowledge and supernatural intervention.
Asclepius married Epione, whose name meant “soothing.” Historians interpret her as a personification of the care given to those who were ill or injured.
Along with their sons, Asclepius and Epione had five daughters. Each of them personified a different aspect of the medical field and their father’s teachings.
Hygeiea was the goddess of continued health and the prevention of disease. She eventually became associated with cleanliness, given us the word “hygiene.”
Panacea’s name meant “universal medicine.” She represented the cure for all diseases.
Her sister Iaso had a similar domain, but her powers were more focused. Rather than a universal cure, she represented specific remedies.
Aegle, or “Brightness,” is usually interpreted as the culmination of healing. She personified the vitality of a healthy body.
Finally, Aceso was the goddess of the healing process. Her domain was the most complex, and in some ways the most vital, of the sisters.
Unlike Panacea and Iaso, Aceso did not personify the cure for an illness or the treatment of an injury. Instead, she represented the process of healing as a whole.
This applied to both the work of the physician and the physical processes involved.
Aceso influenced doctors in the treatment of their patients. When a simple medicine was all that was needed to heal a patient her sisters took over, but for lengthy treatments Aceso was on hand.
As the goddess of a process rather than a single action, Aceso represented the work that went into treating a patient. For more complicated cases, this could involve days or even weeks of constant supervision and care from a physician and their assistants.
Aceso was most important, however, to the patient themselves.
For them, Aceso personified the healing that their body went through to recover from an illness or injury. The entire process from the first sign of illness to the return to full health fell under Aceso’s domain.
She was the goddess who brought skin back together and sealed it with new growth to heal injuries. She was the process of bones slowly stitching back together, muscles recovering their strength, and physical scars fading.
In the case of illness, her work was less visible but equally important.
The people of the ancient world did not understand the processes by which the body fights off illness and recovers. While we now understand how the immune system responds to diseases and the body can be restored afterward, these were unknown until relatively recently.
To the ancient Greeks, therefore, this seemed like a mystical process. If diseases were caused by malevolent spirits or curses, they believed, a kindly goddess had to have power over recovering from them.
As the goddess of the healing process, Aceso was the most active of her sisters. Instead of working on an immediately effective cure or the passive maintenance of existing health, she oversaw the complex and mysterious means by which the body healed and recovered from even the most complex illnesses and injuries.
In Greek mythology, Aceso was one of the daughters of Asclepius. She and her sisters personified different aspects of their father’s practices.
Asclepius was the first doctor of Greece and the patron of medicine. As a son of Apollo and pupil of Chiron, he had learned healing from the foremost experts before setting out to increase his knowledge.
He was the first to teach others what he had learned and soon spread medical knowledge throughout the world. In his constant search for new treatments, he even discovered a way to resurrect the dead.
While this initially caused conflict with the gods, Zeus eventually recognized the physician’s value. He was granted immortality and continued his good work.
His daughters helped him in this. Each one represented a different aspect of health and medicine.
Aceso was the goddess of the healing process. She personified the act of healing, both in the work of the physician and the physical processes undergone by the body.
Without modern medical knowledge, the ways in which the body fought off disease or recovered from injury were mysterious. Aceso put that process in the hands of a caring and capable goddess.