The Asclepion at Epidaurus  func

The Asclepion at Epidaurus  functioned as a center of medical advice, prognosis, and healing.  Treatment  was a combination of drugs, surgery,  good advice, and some hocus pocus,  just like modern medicine. As the experts are unsure of the function of the Tholos, I shall use my imagination to construct a scenario of how the Tholos might have functioned.


a play in one act

Prologue: Anabasis, son of a wealthy merchant is suffering from severe depression. He and his father came to the sanctuary seeking medical help.  The physician's diagnosis of the patient concluded the patient might benefit from a full therapy session at the sacred Tholos.   A fee of 40 drachmas was paid and Anabasis and his father were advised to return 17 days later when the planet Venus would be rising just after sunset, an auspicious time.

(The scene opens at the dormitory where Anabasis, looking appropriately depressed,  has just emerged from the bath and is donning , with the help of an attendant, a ceremonial robe.)

Anabasis, "I must purchase a honey cake to offer the god Asclepius. Where might such cakes be available?"

Attendent,  "Just outside the sanctuary  vendors have shops, sir.  Should I purchase a larger cake  for you and present  it  in your name at the altar, as is the custom?"

(Anabasis hands the attendant coins. He departs)

(A group of young men dressed in white chitons* enter stage  left.)

Leader,  "Greetings, Anabasis, we have come to escort you to the Thymela,  the sun is almost set."

Anabasis,  "Thank you.  Is the temple far away?"

Leader,  "Only three stadia from here. Shall we proceed?"

(The Group exits stage right and the lights dim.)

Scene 2

(The procession enters stage left, with Anabasis in front,  some of the members are chatting. Venus is shining on the horizon at the rear of the stage.  At the center of the stage is a small figure dressed in a long cloak with a hood covering his head.  He holds a caduceus, which he raises as the procession nears. The chattering stops. Behind the hooded figure is the large bronze double door to the Tholos.)

The Escort, with a high pitched voice. "Who among you seeks the god?"

 (The others step back and Anabasis steps forward.)

The Escort,  "Follow me."

(The others exit stage left, the Escort and Anabasis slowly approach the bronze doors.  The escort strikes the door with the caduceus. After a few moments one of the doors opens slightly, then slowly opens just enough for Anabasis to enter. The door closes behind Anabasis and the Escort exits stage left.)

(The stage lights are dimmed then off.)

Scene 3.

(The lights come on just enough to reveal Anabasis in his white chiton standing (stage left) with the closed door behind him.  There is black and white checkerboard floor, it appears to be marble. Seven Corinthian columns are placed in a semi-circle around the perimeter of the stage. There is a three foot  diameter black polished circular stone at the center of the stage. Anabasis slowly become aware of serpents slithering  about the floor, he holds his ground.  The plaintive sound of a flute begins and the figure of the physician/priest slowly becomes visible between the columns - center stage.)

Physician/priest, dressed in white chiton, "Disrobe please and kneel." (Anabasis does so.)

A second figure, dressed in black, to the right of the Physician begins to chant, "Anall nathrach, oorfas bethud, dorhiel dienvay" (repeats) "Anall nathrach, oorfas bethud, dorhiel dienvay" (over and over, and  then approaches, holding a silver chalice which he gives to Anabasis who drinks it down.)

(The chant and music continue and Anabasis begins to weave and becomes disoriented. The stone at the center seems to move under its own power.  The Physician assists Anabasis to his feet, whispers  inaudibly  in his ear. Anabasis climbs down the hole revealed by the moved stone. The stage lights go out.)

Scene 4.

(The stage lights very slowly go on, but remain dim -  just enough to  reveal  a cutaway of a labyrinth. The crumpled figure of Anabasis is at the center and at the end of the fourth semi-circle of the labyrinth is an altar. On the altar is a gilded box and a lighted oil lamp. Behind the altar is a life size statue of the goddess Hygeia.  Anabasis raises himself and begins to grope his way through the labyrinth.  Eventually he works his way to the altar and falls to his knees before the goddess. The oil light burns brighter, revealing not a statue but the goddess herself.)

Hygeia, "Who are you and why do you dare approach a goddess?"

Anabasis, "My mind is a cloud and my soul is black. I can not  live."

Hygeia, "Do you honor and make offerings to my father Asclepius?"


Hygeia, "Rise and approach the altar where I may  look into your heart."

(Anabasis does so with bowed head. There is a long pause and the goddess' eyes glow.)

Hygeia, "I find you worthy of my help. Open the box, take what is inside and keep it close for your remaining days."

(Anabasis removes an object from the box, the flame goes out, and the goddess becomes a statue again. As Anabasis turns away, the goddess pronounces in a whisper.)

 "Your secret name is Acaeus." 

(Anabasis returns to the center of the labyrinth and after a while a rope ladder comes down from the ceiling.  Anabasis begins to climb and the stage lights dim.)

Scene 5.

(The lights go up, a small banquet* is about to  begin - Anabasis,  his family and friends in attendance.)

The father stands,  holding high a kylix (drinking cup), "Let us rejoice and give thanks. My son Anabasis, who was dead, has returned to us!"

(He pours a libation of red wine onto the ground. Servants enter with trays of food, a musician plays a flute, there are cheers.  A  beautiful girl approaches Anabasis and kisses him on the cheek. Anabasis radiates health and happiness. The curtain falls. The audience applauds.)

chiton  Hygeia
                                 Greek chiton                        The goddess Hygeia 



greek banquet
                        Greek banquet scene.