Snakes, sacred dogs and the Hippocratic Oath on the Greek island of Kos

Snakes, sacred dogs and the Hippocratic Oath on the Greek island of Kos
May 13, 2015/in /by admin

“Walking is Man’s Best Medicine”
-- Hippocrates

The small island of Kos in the Greek Dodecanese island chain was the birthplace of Hippocrates, “the father of Western medicine,” and also contains ruins from one of the most famous “Asclepieia” (ancient hospitals) of the classical world.  

The Cult of Asclepius

Asclepius was the Greek god of medicine and healing, and his daughters were also goddesses of well-being: Hygieia ("Hygiene", the goddess of health and cleanliness), Iaso (the goddess of recovery from illness), Aceso (the goddess of healing), Aglæa (the goddess of beauty and splendor), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). His snake-entwined staff is still a symbol of medicine today (snakes were sacred beings of wisdom, healing, and resurrection).

The cult of Asclepius was very popular in Classical Greece, and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples to be cured when they were sick. This involved ritual purification, making offerings or sacrifices, and then an overnight stay in the holiest part of the sanctuary. Any dreams or visions were reported to a priest who then prescribed treatment. Some temples even used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners!

Snakes were often used in the healing rituals, and they were left to slither around on the floor in the rooms where the sick and injured slept. These particular non-venemous snakes were brought in at the founding of each new Asclepieion throughout the classical world.

The most famous temple of Asclepius was in Epidaurus in the 4th c. BC, but another was built on the island of Kos, in the Dodecanese island chain (just a few kilometers from what is now the Turkish coast). It grew in importance over the centuries and was even decorated with lavish statues and imperial baths during the Roman era (the Romans commonly took over the gods of other cultures). It fell into disuse with the fall of Rome and was finally destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th c.AD and then sacked by marauding hordes from the mainland. By the middle ages, the Knights of St. John used the ruins as a quarry….

Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC)

The most famous pupil to come out of the Asclepieion on Kos was Hippocrates, considered “the Father of Western Medicine.” He was the first person to separate medicine from religion, and claimed that diseases were a natural occurrence, not a punishment inflicted by the gods. He examined the effects of environment, diet, family history, and daily habits on health and disease. His therapeutic approach was based on "the healing power of nature" and focused on rest and the body’s natural ability to heal itself. The treatment was gentle, and emphasized keeping the patient clean and sterile.

The Hippocratic School pioneered such concepts as clinical observation and documentation, where physicians recorded their findings and methods in a clear and objective manner so they could be passed down and employed by others. Hippocrates made careful note of symptoms like complexion, pulse, fever, pains, movement, and excretions. He is said to have even measured a patient's pulse when taking a case history to discover whether he was lying! He began to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic, and used terms such as "exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and convalescence." His work in chest surgery, while crude (like using lead pipes to drain chest wall abscesses), is still valid.

Hippocratic medicine was known for its professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice. It recommended that doctors always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious. He basically ushered in the image of the Wise Doctor we still have today.


In a tradition that is now 2,500 years old, many physicians still take a version of “The Hippocratic Oath” as a rite of passage and pledge of service.

The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation: “I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, as well as Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment…”

Nowadays of course most doctors don't swear to Apollo, but a recent survey of 126 medical schools in the U.S. found that 3 still used the original oath, 67 used a modified version, 33 used the Declaration of Geneva, 14 used another oath, and only 2 did not do anything.

Hippocrates is often quoted as saying "Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food" and "Walking is man's best medicine.” Wise advice even today!

Want to come see for yourself? Join us on our Greek Dodecanese Island cruise, and "walk yourself to health"! grin
See the trip here:  https://www.customwalks.com/tours/view/greek-island-walk-sail



Let's socialize

© 2023 | Privacy & Cookie Policy
Customwalks Ltd
All Rights Reserved

Customer support

Contact us by email. All inquiries

(+39) 348 564 0934
Italian Office: Contact us by calling, SMS, or Whatsapp Message or voice message. (Office Hours: 7 days a week from 09:00 to 17:00 Italian time)

Home | All Tours | Testimonials | Contact