The Serpent Wrestler or The Serpent Bearer

Ophiuchus Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Ophiuchus

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The Story


The Serpent Wrestler represents Asclepius, the God of Healing. He was the son of Apollo and Coronis, the daughter of King Phlegyas of the Lapiths. While pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis had an affair with a guy called Ischys.

A Crow Carries Bad News

Apollo must have had some suspicions, because he had set a crow to watch over Coronis. At this time all crows were pure white, but when the crow flew to Apollo to tell him that his beloved was unfaithful to him, Apollo in his fury turned the crow to raven black. He blamed the crow for not keeping her lover away from Coronis. The Serpent Wrestler

Saving the Child

Apollo had his sister Artemis slay Coronis with her arrows. Too late he repented of his anger. The body of Coronis was being burned on her funeral pyre. Nevertheless, Apollo had his brother Hermes cut the infant Asclepius out of Coronis womb. The boy was given to the centaur Chiron to be reared.

How Asclepius Got His Medicines

It is said that the goddess Athena gave Asclepius two vials of blood from the Gorgon Medusa, who had been slain by the hero Perseus with Athena's aid. Blood from the right side of Medusa's body restored life. Blood from the left side was poisonous. Others say that Asclepius gained the power to restore life from a herb which a serpent used to restore to life another serpent that Asclepius had killed with his heel or his staff.

Restoring the Dead to Life

Asclepius began to use his power to restore the dead with great enthusiasm. It is said that he restored to life, Hippolytus the son of Theseus, who died when his chariot crashed and who has been identified with the constellation of Auriga. Another to whom Asclepius restored life was Glaucon, the son of King Minos of Crete, who died by drowning in a vat of honey. Yet another whom Asclepius restored to life was the great hunter Orion, who died of a scorpion sting, because he had offended the goddess Artemis.

Emptying the Land of the Dead

In fact Asclepius was restoring so many people to life that the Realm of the Dead was becoming depopulated. Hades, the God of the Underworld, whom the Romans knew as Pluto, complained to Zeus about the loss of the dead. Everyday Hades had fewer and fewer subjects over whom to rule.

Slowing Down the Doctor

So in response to the pleas of Hades, Zeus struck down Asclepius with a thunderbolt. Apollo was infuriated by the slaying of his son, and took his revenge by slaying the three one-eyed beings called Cyclopes who forged Zeus' thunderbolts. So to appease the anger of Apollo, Zeus revived Asclepius and set him in the sky as the constellation of Ophiuchus.

Rebirth of the Serpent

The Serpent Wrestler is a symbol of health and healing because of the connection with the serpent, which was a symbol of rebirth in the classical culture. It was thought that the serpent was reborn when it shed its skin each spring.  

Copyright © 1998 - 2010 by Arnold V. Lesikar,
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University,St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

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