Aesculapius is the ancient Roman god of medicine, earlier known as the mortal hero turned god Asklepios or Asclepius in Greek mythology. According to mythology, he was a son of the god Apollo by a mortal woman named Coronis. Aesculapius was saved as a baby from the womb of his dying mother by Apollo. He was then raised and trained in the art of healing by the centaur Chiron, trainer of all those famous Greek heroes. Aesculapius soon became the best healer, surpassing his teacher and father, eventually even raising mortals from death. This angered Zeus, who killed him with his thunderbolt but later raised him back to life as a god upon the request of Apollo.
Aesculapius’ staff with a snake curled around it, variously called the Rod of Asclepius, the Staff of Asclepius, or the “asklepian”, is commonly used as a modern symbol of medicine. The asklepian is oftentimes confused with the “caduceus”, the staff of Hermes (Mercury in Roman myth), the god of travellers and of commerce. While the asklepian staff has only one snake, the caduceus has two snakes curled around the staff and it has wings on top of it. Professional healthcare associations commonly use the asklepian as their symbol, while commercial healthcare organizations commonly use the caduceus.
Aesculapius’s female children have also come to symbolize aspects of medicine. His daughters are Hygieia (hygiene, health, cleanliness and sanitation), Iaso (recuperation from illness), Aceso (the healing process), Aegle (the glow of good health), and Panaceia (the goddess of healing).