Thursday, November 29, 2007

On Asklepios, the doctor.

In the Greek religious system there are Heroes, and Heroes are the Greek answer to ancestor worship that has occurred and continues to occur all over the world to this day. In addition, the Hero system also seems to be connected to the idea, arising most prominently to the fore in the Hindu system, of the avatar. We see it to this day in religions as far ranging as Christianity and Hinduism, and in many ways in the Prophets of Islam and Judaism.

An avatar is essentially a physical earthly manifestation of a divine being. That is to say, a god made incarnate as a human being (The entire deity or just a subset?) and as a result becoming very much an individual being since the avatar does live a human life of extra ordinary proportions.

Rama is an avatar in the Hindu religion. Mohamed in Islam may well have been seen as a kind of avatar. And in Christianity, Jesus is, perhaps, the world's best known avatar form. Who these people may have actually been and how their teachings have been misinterpreted and misapplied through history is beyond the scope of this posting, and not in my consciousness enough for me to give little more than simple opinion.

But in the Greek Religion, there are several beings in the mythos who are clearly avatar forms and who may well have been true human beings who were born of the essence of the divine, but having been born in the mortal world lived and died as mortals do, the divine essence returning to the divine sphere where it came from.

Herakles, Odysseus, Achilles, the Dioskouroi, and Asklepios being in the forefront of these. The Greeks called them Heroes, and sometimes Hero Gods, continuing their worship long after their deaths and seeking their aid and protection. Some of these, like Asklepios and Herakles, are often thought to have transcended human mortality, due to their divine essence, and lived on as Gods, independent and whole, in the divine sphere.

Asklepios was a physician, son of Apollo, more often than not a sign that a hero was an avatar was direct descent from a God in the mythos, who in his efforts to heal people made the fatal mistake of bringing the dead back to life. This is an unforgivable breach of the order of the cosmos, and Zeus took action, killing Asklepios.

The myths say that Apollo took revenge, and that as a result of his revenge was punished by Zeus to become the servant of a mortal king. A true come down for a God.

Asklepios confuses me in many ways because the concept of the avatar is fairly new to me. The very idea of a God walking among us, living a normal human life, perhaps even unaware that he or she is an avatar of a God, yet always pushed by his or her divine nature to do extraordinary things is something that both fascinates me and scares me a bit.

How many people, for example, develop delusions about themselves that cause them to lead people astray because they think they have a right to tell others what the Gods think? Can I be such a person? Am I, in sharing this site with you, being arrogant enough to think of myself in this way? The possibility scares me a bit. We human beings are so easily lead to arrogance and zealotry.

And what about Zeus in all this? Was there no other way to stop Asklepios? Was death the only way, or is it simply that by his very nature he must have a dreadful ending?

If one thinks about many of the people in our history who could have been avatars of the divine, one can imagine a Martin Luther King Jr or a Malcolm X as such, each having met sad and sudden ends. But what of other more notorious men like Hitler or Stalin? Could it be that an avatar can turn from the divine path through human will and corruption to an evil beyond anything the Gods would wish upon us?

It is all a bit scary at times to contemplate. After all, the Gods do not necessarily have our individual best interests at heart, and just as Troy fell at the hands of the Heroes, so to might we, judged by the Gods unworthy of continuing.

No comments: