Asklepios: archetypal image of the physician's existence

by C. Kerenyi

Other authorsRalph Manheim (Author)
Book, 1959



Call number


Call number



New York : Bollingen Foundation, 1959.

Physical description

xxvii, 151 p.; 26 cm

Local notes

This brief, richly illustrated monograph offers deep insights into the mythology of the archetypal physician.

Whatever brings you to the study of Asklepios, if you're seriously interested in the topic you cannot afford to pass over this volume. It provides a cogent, subtle, and profound discussion of the myth of Asklepios based on Carl Kerenyi's long, passionate investigation of Greek mythology.

If you're already familiar with Kerenyi's work, then you'll have a good idea of what to expect from this volume, which, though numbered 3 in his Bollingen Series, was actually the first published. In his preface you'll read about Kerenyi's ideas on mythology, on which he was one of the greatest authorities of the 20th century. His views stand distinct from those of other major authorities such as J. G. Frazer, Robert Graves, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell (to name a few). He sees myth-making as a distinct mode of creative thought, not to be reduced to other types of human activity, and he believes that authentic mythologems from widely different times and places can illuminate each other. Thus Kerenyi regards Goethe as one of the great mythical thinkers of modern times, and occasionally Kerenyi will refer to the insights of Goethe and others to help elucidate obscurities in Greek myth.

There is not a great deal of material on Asklepios out there, so Kerenyi moves fairly quickly through what is known from archaelogical and literary sources, augmented by his own observations at the relevant sites and his own deep reflections. Starting at the temple of Aesculapius on the Tiber Island in Rome, he moves on to the famous temple at Epidaurus in Greece, then to the island of Kos where Asklepios was thought to have engendered the physician "family" of Hippocrates. Finally, after a discussion of the role of physicians in Homer, he looks at the possible origins of the cult in Thessaly.

Throughout the volume are many photographs of statues and busts of Asklepios, as well as archaeological sites and a few line drawings. Kerenyi looks at the links of Asklepios to Zeus, Apollo, and Dionysus, and examines the symbolic meanings of sickness and healing in human experience.

The big problem here is the high price of these old hardbacks. I snapped up a used copy for around $20, but mainly they are priced much higher than that.

It all depends on how interested you are in Asklepios (or Aesculapius). What I can tell you is that, for the seriously interested, the material in this book will in no way disappoint.

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