Aristophanes on Asclepios—Restoring sight to Plutos
Aristophanes, Plutos 410 & 620 (trans. O'Neill)
(Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.):
Comedy in which two Athenians take the blind god Plutos to Asklepios at Epidauros to be healed
Khremylos: But I have thought the matter well over, and the best thing is to make Plutos lie in the Temple of Asklepios.
Blepsidemos: Unquestionably that's the very best thing. Hurry and lead him away to the temple . . .
[The two Athenians bring Plutos to the shrine of Asklepios to be healed by the god.]
Khremylos: Let us make haste to put Plutos to bed in the Temple of Asklepios . . . Kario, bring the coverlets and all that I have got ready from the house; let us conduct the god to the temple, taking care to observe all the proper rites.(Kario comes out of the house with a bundle under one arm and leading Ploutos with the other. Khremylos and Blepsidemos join him and all four of them depart.) . . .
Leader of the Chorus: My good fellow, what has happened to your friends? You seem the bearer of good tidings.
Kario: What joy-for my master and even more for Plutos! The god has regained his sight; his eyes sparkle with the greatest brilliancy, thanks to the benevolent care of Asklepios . . .
Leader of the Chorus: I will sing to the honor of Asklepios, the son of illustrious Zeus, with a resounding voice; he is the beneficent star which men adore . . .
Kario: Having arrived near to the temple with our patient, then so unfortunate, but now at the apex of happiness, of blessedness, we first led him down to the sea to purify him.
Wife: Ah! what a singular pleasure for an old man to bathe in the cold seawater!
Kario (in the manner of the tragic messenger): Then we repaired to the temple of the god. Once the wafers and the various offerings had been consecrated upon the altar, and the cake of wheaten-meal had been banded over to the devouring Hephaistos, we made Plutos lie on a couch according to the rite, and each of us prepared himself a bed of leaves.
Wife: Had any other folk come to beseech the deity?
Kario: Yes. Firstly, Neoklides, who is blind, but steals much better than those who see clearly; then many others attacked by complaints of all kinds. The lights were put out and the priest enjoined us to sleep, especially recommending us to keep silent should we hear any noise. There we were all lying down quite quietly. I could not sleep; I was thinking of a certain stew-pan full of pap placed close to an old woman and just behind her head. I had a furious longing to slip towards that side. But just as I was lifting my head, I noticed the priest, who was sweeping off both the cakes and the figs on the sacred table; then he made the round of the altars and sanctified the cakes that remained, by stowing them away in a bag. I therefore resolved to follow such a pious example and made straight for the pap.
Wife: You rogue! and had you no fear of the god?
Kario: Aye, indeed! I feared that the god [Asklepios] with his crown on his head might have been near the stew-pan before me. I said to myself, `Like priest, like god.' . . . As for myself, I swallowed a goodly portion of the pap and, having made a good feed, went back to bed.
Wife: And did not the god come?
Kario: He did not tarry; and when he was near us, oh! dear! such a good joke happened. My belly was quite blown up, and I let a thunderous fart!
Wife: Doubtless the god pulled a wry face?
Kario: No, but [his daughters] Iaso blushed a little and Panakeia turned her head away, holding her nose; my farts are not perfume.
Wife: And what did the god do?
Kario: He paid not the slightest heed.
Wife: He must then be a pretty coarse kind of god?
Kario: I don't say that, but he's used to tasting stools.
Wife: Impudent knave, go on with you!
Kario: Then I hid myself in my bed all a-tremble. Asklepios did the round of the patients and examined them all with great attention; then a slave placed beside him a stone mortar, a pestle and a little box.
Wife: Of stone?
Kario: No, not of stone.
Wife: But how could you see all this, you arch-rascal, when you say you were hiding all the time?
Kario: Why, great gods, through my cloak, for it's not without holes! He first prepared an ointment for Neoklides; he threw three heads of Tenian garlic into the mortar, pounded them with an admixture of fig-tree sap and lentisk, moistened the whole with Sphettian vinegar, and, turning back the patient's eyelids, applied his salve to the interior of the eyes, so that the pain might be more excruciating. Neoklides shrieked, howled, sprang towards the foot of his bed and wanted to bolt, but the god laughed and said to him, `Keep where you are with your salve; by doing this you will not go and perjure yourself before the Assembly.'
Wife: What a wise god and what a friend to our city
Kario: Thereupon he came and seated himself at the head of Ploutos' bed, took a perfectly clean rag and wiped his eyelids; Panakeia covered his head and face with a purple cloth, while the god whistled, and two enormous snakes came rushing from the sanctuary.
Wife: Great gods!
Kario: They slipped gently beneath the purple cloth and, as far as I could judge, licked the patient's eyelids; for, in less time than even you need, mistress, to drain down ten beakers of wine, Ploutos rose up; he could see. I clapped my hands with joy and awoke my master, and the god immediately disappeared with the serpents into the sanctuary. As for those who were lying near Ploutos, you can imagine that they embraced him tenderly. Dawn broke and not one of them had closed an eye. As for myself, I did not cease thanking the god who had so quickly restored to Ploutos his sight and had made Neoklides blinder than ever.
Wife: Oh! thou great Asklepios! How mighty is thy power!
Atsma, A. (2010) Asclepios Cult. In A. Atsma, Greek Gods, spirits and monsters. Theoi Project. Retrieved from http://www.theoi.com/Encyc_A.html on February 27, 2010.
von Weidich, Carl Holzinger (1979). Aristophanes Plutos With Commentary (Greek Texts and Commentaries Ser.). Ayer Company Publishers.