Asklepius the God of Medicine -or- The Hippocratic Oath

Pharmakon -or- Dreams of Socrates and Galen

The ancient Greeks and Romans both paid homage to the god of medicine Asklepius. In Crito Socrates informs his friend Crito (and the audience) that he has had a Dream Vision that prophesized that he would go to Pythia, the priestess who was the caretaker of the Oracle at Delphi. Socrates believes that the meaning of the dream is obvious; he knows he will be sentenced to death and he goes freely to it. Socrates is an archetypal rebel, a martyr, a prisoner of conscience who understands his role and obligations to himself, his society, and history.

In taking his deadly medicine, Socrates clearly understands that the hemlock will act as a pharmakon for himself and his community. Just before his death, his last words are, "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius; please pay it and don't let it pass." Asclepius was the god of medicine and these words implied that Socrates felt that he owed a debt to the god because of the cup of hemlock he had just drunk.

The original version of the Hippocratic Oath was intended for the physician to honor and swear ethical medical practice. The Oath invoked the name of Asklepius. In the ancient world, the physician's use of dreams as a medical tool was widely open to debate. Reportedly, the father of the ancient Roman physician Galen had planned a traditional career for his son had a dream in which Asklepius appeared. Asklepius commanded the Galen's father to have his son educated in medicine.

Years later Galen reported that he was visited by a sub-diaphragmatic abscess that may have proven fatal if not properly treated. Galen tells us that in a dream, he encountered the god Asklepius who proceeded to instruct him "to open an artery in his hand between the thumb and the first finger and to let it bleed spontaneously." The dream's prescribed surgical procedure was successful. Galen became the Emperor Marcus Aurelius physican and later he became his son's (Commodus) doctor. (Read IIDR dream interpretation Dreams of Caesars to learn more about the role of dreams in Roman society and life).

From a popular cinema perspective the film Gladiator takes place during the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus providing the audience with a feel for the cultural background and tastes during that era of history. The film features a hypnogogic dream (see video clip of hypnogogic scene) near the end of the film where General Maximus Decimus Meridius takes his revenge on Commodus. While not quite factual, the director took poetic licence in providing a film that does give the audience a sense of realism of "the dream that was once Rome."

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.