Votive for Asclepius Fighting on a Horse




This little votive offering, 3" x 3", depicts the God Asklipiós (Aesculapius, Asclepius, or Esculapius; Gr. Ἀσκληπιός) fighting on a horse. The plaque appears to be genuine and ancient. It is likely made of alabaster. There are four words on the little sculpture, only two of which can be read with certainty: ΑΣΚΛΗΠΙΟΣ and ΔΟΡΕΙΟΣ, but the inscription seems to read as follows:


transliteration: Kýrios Asklipiós Dóreios Ǽngkhi

Asklipiós is the son of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων), and, like his father, a great God of healing. The word dóreios (Gr. δόρειος) means 'fighting on a horse.' The words before Asklipiós (Asclepius; Gr. Ἀσκληπιός) and after dóreios are worn away and difficult to read. They appear to be Kýrios (Lord; Gr. Κύριος) at the beginning of the inscription, and ǽngkhi (wish; Gr. ἔγχη) at the end. The word ǽngkhi and the diminutive size of the tablet indicate that this was most likely a votive offering, perhaps from someone who was ill and hoping to be healed by Asklipiós.

In Hellenic iconography, Asklipiós is depicted, almost always, in a form most gentle, walking, and carrying the staff of healing. Therefore, this votive is an exception.

There is a story in Spárta (Gr. Σπάρτα), at the time when Phílippos of Makædóhn (Philip II of Macedonia; Gr. Φίλιππος Β' ὁ Μακεδών), the father of Alǽxandros (Alexander; Gr. Ἀλέξανδρος) the Great, attacked the country. There was a sick boy who went to Æpídavros (Epidaurus; Gr. Επίδαυρος) and had a dream of Asklipiós. The boy prayed to the God, "Oh great Asklipiós! I have no money to buy an offering for you, but please have pity and heal me!" The God appeared, dressed in armor, and exclaimed to the child, "Take courage, boy, and be patient! I am in great haste to depart and protect the Lakedaemonians (ed. the Spartans), those mighty ones and your brethren, who keep the words of Apóllohn with justice! When I return, I will see to you!" Asklipiós went forth and fought alongside the Spartans and help them save their country. This being accomplished, the God returned, and restored the boy to health. The Spartans, upon hearing the story of this youth, from thence forward worshiped Asklipiós as a warrior.


"And of your power, Asclepius, you gave this example in those days when Philip, wishing to destroy the royal authority, led his army against Sparta. To them from Epidaurus Asclepius came as a helper, honoring the race of Heracles, which consequently Zeus spared. He came at the time when the sick boy came from Bosporos. Shining in your golden armor, you met him as he approached, Asclepius; and when the boy beheld you, he drew near to you, stretching forth his hand, and entreated you in suppliant words: 'I have no share in your gifts, Asclepius Paean; have pity on me.' Then you addressed these words to me clearly: 'Take heart, for I shall come to you in due time---just wait here---after I have rescued the Lacedaemonians from grievous doom because they justly guard the precepts of Apollo which Lycurgus ordained for the city, after he had consulted the oracle.' And so he went to Sparta. But my thoughts stirred me to announce the divinity's advent to the Lacedaemonians, everything in exact order. They listened to me as I spoke the message of safety Asclepius, and you saved them. And they called upon all to welcome you with honors due a guest, proclaiming you the Savior of spacious Lacedaemon. These words, O far the best of all the Gods, Isyllus set up for you, honoring your power, O Lord, as is seemly." [1]

It is our belief that this little votive offering came from some Spartan who desired healing or who simply wished to express his or her love for the God, the son and friend of their great protector, mighty Apóllohn.


[1] The words of Ísyllos (Isyllus; Gr. ῎Ισυλλος), a poet of Spárta. 295. Inscriptiones Graecae, IV2, 1, no. 128, v, 57-79 [3rd c. B. C.] trans. Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein in the book ASCLEPIUS: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, 1945, 1998 The John Hopkins Univ. Press (Baltimore MD USA and London England), pp. 143-145.

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