Asclepius Had Two Mothers?

The following contains some severe misogyny and a debate about Asclepius’ ‘true’ mother:

Pausanias, 2.26.6

“There is also another story about [Asclepius], that when Korônis was pregnant with him she had sex with Iskhus, Elatos’ son and that she was killed by Artemis who was defending the insult to Apollo. But when the pyre had been lit, they say that Hermes plucked the child from the flam.

The third story seems to me to be the least true—it makes Asclepius the child of Arsinoê, the daughter of Leucippus. When Apollophanes the Arcadian came to Delphi and asked the god if Asclepius was the child of Arsinoê and thus a Messenian citizen, the oracle prophesied:

Asclepius, come as a great blessing to all mortals,
Whom lovely Korônis bore after having sex with me—
The daughter of Phlegyas in rugged Epidauros.

This oracle makes it abundantly clear that Asclepius is not Arsinoê’s child but that Hesiod or one of those poets who insert lines into Hesiod’s poetry added for the favor of the Messenians.”

λέγεται δὲ καὶ ἄλλος ἐπ’ αὐτῷ λόγος, Κορωνίδα κύουσαν ᾿Ασκληπιὸν ῎Ισχυι τῷ ᾿Ελάτου συγγενέσθαι, καὶ τὴν μὲν ἀποθανεῖν ὑπὸ ᾿Αρτέμιδος ἀμυνομένης τῆς ἐς τὸν ᾿Απόλλωνα ὕβρεως, ἐξημμένης δὲ ἤδη τῆς πυρᾶς ἁρπάσαι λέγεται τὸν παῖδα ῾Ερμῆς ἀπὸ τῆς φλογός. ὁ δὲ τρίτος τῶν λόγων ἥκιστα ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν ἀληθής ἐστιν, ᾿Αρσινόης ποιήσας εἶναι τῆς Λευκίππου παῖδα ᾿Ασκληπιόν. ᾿Απολλοφάνει γὰρ τῷ ᾿Αρκάδι ἐς Δελφοὺς ἐλθόντι καὶ ἐρομένῳ τὸν θεὸν εἰ γένοιτο ἐξ ᾿Αρσινόης ᾿Ασκληπιὸς καὶ Μεσσηνίοις πολίτης εἴη, ἔχρησεν ἡ Πυθία·

ὦ μέγα χάρμα βροτοῖς βλαστὼν ᾿Ασκληπιὲ πᾶσιν,
ὃν Φλεγυηὶς ἔτικτεν ἐμοὶ φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
ἱμερόεσσα Κορωνὶς ἐνὶ κραναῇ ᾿Επιδαύρῳ.

οὗτος ὁ χρησμὸς δηλοῖ μάλιστα οὐκ ὄντα ᾿Ασκληπιὸν ᾿Αρσινόης, ἀλλὰ ῾Ησίοδον ἢ τῶν τινα ἐμπεποιηκότων ἐς τὰ ῾Ησιόδου τὰ ἔπη συνθέντα ἐς τὴν Μεσσηνίων χάριν.

The standard details are reported in the Homeric Hymn to Asclepius:

“I begin to sing of the doctor of diseases, Asclepius,
The son of Apollo whom shining Korônis bore
In the Dotian plain, that daughter of king Phlegyas.
He’s a great blessing to mortal men, a bewitcher of painful troubles.
And hail to you lord. I am beseeching you with this song.”

᾿Ιητῆρα νόσων ᾿Ασκληπιὸν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
υἱὸν ᾿Απόλλωνος τὸν ἐγείνατο δῖα Κορωνὶς
Δωτίῳ ἐν πεδίῳ κούρη Φλεγύου βασιλῆος,
χάρμα μέγ’ ἀνθρώποισι, κακῶν θελκτῆρ’ ὀδυνάων.
Καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε ἄναξ· λίτομαι δέ σ’ ἀοιδῇ.

Phlegyas  is the father of Ixion and Corônis.  His son Ixion was exiled as a murder and then, after Zeus cleansed him of his crime, he tried to rape Hera and was punished in Hades for eternity (spinning, crucified, on a wheel). One can easily imagine distancing Asclepius from this family…

The debate is treated by an ancient scholiast:

Schol. ad Pind. Pyth 3.14

“Some say Asklepios is the son of Arsinoê, others say he is the son of Korônis. Asclepiades claims that Arsinoê is the daughter of Leukippus the son of Periêros from whom comes Asklepios from Apollo and a daughter Eriôpis. Thus we have the line: “She bore in the halls Asklepios, marshall of men / after being subdued by Apollo, and well-tressed Eriôpis.” There is also of Arsinoê: “Arsinoê, after having sex withZeus and Leto’s son,bore Asklepios, blameless and strong.”

Socrates also claims that Asklepios is the offspring of Arsinoê and has been interpolated as the child of Korônis. The matters about Korônis have been reported in lines that were added into Hesiodic poetry….”

BDEFGQ τὸν μὲν εὐίππου θυγάτηρ: τὸν ᾿Ασκληπιὸν οἱ μὲν ᾿Αρσινόης, οἱ δὲ Κορωνίδος φασὶν εἶναι. ᾿Ασκληπιάδης δέ φησι τὴν ᾿Αρσινόην Λευκίππου εἶναι τοῦ Περιήρους, ἧς καὶ ᾿Απόλλωνος ᾿Ασκληπιὸς καὶ θυγάτηρ ᾿Εριῶπις· [Hes. 107 Rz.]

BEFGQ          ἡ δ’ ἔτεκ’ ἐν μεγάροις ᾿Ασκληπιὸν ὄρχαμον ἀνδρῶν,
Φοίβῳ ὑποδμηθεῖσα, ἐϋπλόκαμόν τ’ ᾿Εριῶπιν.
καὶ ᾿Αρσινόης ὁμοίως·

᾿Αρσινόη δὲ μιγεῖσα Διὸς καὶ Λητοῦς υἱῷ
τίκτ’ ᾿Ασκληπιὸν υἱὸν ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε.

καὶ Σωκράτης (FHG IV p. 496) γόνον ᾿Αρσινόης τὸν ᾿Ασκληπιὸν  ἀποφαίνει, παῖδα δὲ Κορωνίδος εἰσποίητον. ἐν δὲ τοῖς εἰς ῾Ησίοδον ἀναφερομένοις ἔπεσι (fr. 123) φέρεται ταῦτα περὶ τῆς Κορωνίδος·

Later, the same scholion presents an attempt by a Greek historian to resolve the two narratives.

“Aristeidês in the text on the founding of Knidos reports this: Asclepios is the child of Apollo and Arsinoê but she was called Korônis when she was a maiden. She was the daughter of Leukippus of Amykla in Lakedaimon.”

᾿Αριστείδης δὲ ἐν τῷ περὶ Κνίδου κτίσεως συγγράμματί (FHG IV 324) φησιν οὕτως· ᾿Ασκληπιὸς ᾿Απόλλωνος παῖς καὶ ᾿Αρσι-νόης. αὕτη δὲ παρθένος οὖσα ὠνομάζετο Κορωνὶς, Λευκίππου δὲ θυγάτηρ ἦν τοῦ ᾿Αμύκλα τοῦ Λακεδαίμονος·

In this debate, we are likely witnessing a later comment (e.g. Pausanias) on an early divergence with roots in local (epichoric) traditions about the genealogy of Asclepius. The Panhellenic account (more Athenocentric in this case) is championed by Pausanias.

Whoever the mother, Asclepius’ father is constant!


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