That the presiding deity of Western Medicine or Allopathic Medicine is Æscalupius is well known. However even the great Æscalupius had a teacher is a fact not so well known. If ever a teacher is to be judged by the quality of his students the person I am going to eulogise now stands head and shoulders above the rest. His very birth was wonderful and needs recounting for the strangeness of the phenomenon.
It happened long ago when our world was quite young. Cronus, the father of Zeus, was the lord of the Universe and resided at Mt. Olympus with his consort Rhea. As was his penchant, Cronus snatched a few moments of lechery in a remote corner of a remote island, by lying with a young maiden Philyra, far away from the gaze and glare of Rhea. Little had he reckoned with the wrath and tenacity of a woman who, knowing the philandering ways of her husband, felt herself cheated. Cronus was surprised in the act by his wife Rhea and he immediately transformed himself into a stallion and galloped away.
Such was the outcome of many illicit love affairs in those days; similar is the outcome of many illicit love affairs nowadays.
It is not known what took place between the two women, Rhea and Philyra for the former was neither a harridan nor a rantipole and the latter was a greenhorn in such matters, but in the fullness of time Philyra gave birth to her son, half human and half horse, the celebrated centaur Cheiron. Cheiron being the son of the chief of the gods was immortal; and as he grew up he learnt many useful arts like the arts of healing and resurrection, warfare in all its forms and was considered exceptionally wise and, unlike other centaurs, very well behaved; sterling qualities indeed to be a teacher.
The list of Cheiron’s students reads like the Who’s Who of ancient heroes.
The most formidable of them all was Hercules who was the strongest man who ever lived. He rid the world of monsters and prodigies; and performed the twelve labours for the benefit of mankind. After his death Hercules was deified and now lives on Mt. Olympus.
As already mentioned Æscalupius was another of his students, and being of divine parentage, was immortal. It was said he knew the esoteric art of resurrection: to make the dead come alive. That he overdid his expertise is well documented and Pluto, the Lord of the Underworld complained to Zeus that Æscalupius was cheating him of his subjects on being bribed with gold! Modern practitioners of Allopathic Medicine may take heart: that a corruption charge was laid against the very god of Medicine. Zeus promptly wielded his thunderbolt and reduced him to ashes.
Achilles the supreme hero of the ILIAD, the Trojan War, learnt his ropes at Cheiron’s feet. Achilles was invulnerable except at his heels where the waters of the obnoxious river Styx failed to touch him when his mother Thetis dipped him into the river. That Alexander the Great carried a copy of the ILIAD on his voyage of conquest through Africa and Asia speaks of the reverence that the Greeks had for the poet Homer and the hero Achilles.
Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, was trained by Cheiron. The Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece, an everlasting emblem of supernatural power and theirs was the greatest collection of heroes the world has seen. The wonderful adventures of the Argonauts is a tale worth recounting but that would be digressing a lot from our subject.
The virgin Atalanta who was the only woman among the Argonauts was also a student of this famed centaur. She was a woman of many parts and was an unparalleled runner whom no man could beat. She was the victrix of the Caledonian Boar hunt where everything turned topsy-turvy.
There were others too, too numerous to mention who studied under Cheiron.
The end of Cheiron was a tragedy. Hercules shot a poison tipped arrow at another centaur who was about to ravish his consort and as the centaur lay dying Cheiron examined him and wondered what it was that felled so robust a creature. Suddenly the arrow slipped from his hand and stuck his foot and a festering sore formed, recalcitrant to all treatment. He was in constant agony and wanted to give up his life but being immortal could not do so. Hercules pleaded on his behalf and Lord Zeus graciously resurrected, as a substitute, Æscalupius from the dead and Cheiron was made the constellation Sagittarius.
Incidentally Cheiron is the Greek word for ‘hand’ and is the root of the French word Chirurgery meaning ‘a work done with hands’, which in English translates into Surgery.