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Snakes and Serpents in the Ancient Hellenic Religion

By Elani Temperance

[Snip] The ancient Hellenes were not fearful of snakes. They might have been cautious of poisonous ones, but in general, happening across a snake was a good omen. Unlike in Jewish and Christian mythology, where the Devil working though a snake got Eve to eat the apple, Hellenic mythology usually reserves a very positive place for snakes. Today, I’m giving some examples of the positive images surrounding serpents and snakes, although there are, surely, also negative ones to take into account.

Asklēpiós was, and is, a much beloved Theos. He started out being honored as a hero–the son of Apollon and Koronis–but became a God in His own right because of his healing skill. Worship places of Asklēpiós were called ‘asklepieia’ (Ἀσκληπίεια). An asklepieion (Ἀσκληπιεῖον) served as a temple, a hospital, and as a training-institute of the healing arts. In ancient Hellas, the sick would come to an asklepieion and offer a sacrifice to Asklēpiós–amongst the recorded sacrifices are black goats or sheep, gold, silver, or marble sculptures of the body part that required healing, and coins–in hopes of healing. They would then settle into the abaton (άβατον) or enkoimeterion (εγκοιμητήριοn), a restricted sleeping hall, which was occupied by the sick alone, or sometimes by a group of them, as well as a good few snakes, which are considered sacred animals of Asklēpiós.

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