Qutb al-Din Askevari-Asclepios
Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff, Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an excerpt from the ‘Asclepios’ chapter, in Qutb al-Din Askevari’s ‘The Beloved of the Hearts’, In Mathieu Terrier’s ‘Histoire de la Sagesse et Philosophie Shi’ite’, ‘L’Aimé des Coeurs’. Editions du Cerf_2016. Our English translation-in-the-working from the French.
The Notice devoted to Asclepios:
‘In the ‘History’ of the virtuous Sahrazuri, we can read that Asclepios was the inventor of medicine and was venerated by the Greeks who would ask for his ‘intercession’ (yastasfi’ un) at his shrine. It was said that he had twelve thousand disciples from all regions of the world and that ten thousand candles were light upon his grave every night. Most of the kings and the wise were of his lineage and his offspring ceaselessly transmitted the legacy of medicine way up to the time of Hippocrates. It was known about him that he was ‘taken’ upon the angels by a pillar of light, as Hippocrates writes in his Works.
It is recalled that God acted like this with Asclepios, alike others of his kind, so that his mortal and terrestrial part would disappear by fire, and his immortal part would be ‘taken’ (yağtadibu) and his soul rise towards heaven. As for me, I say that the intention of this may be that Man, when he annihilates his corporeal appetites, here indicated as ‘his mortal and terrestrial part’, through the fire of patience and abstinence towards them, embellish his rational soul after having rejected these appetites for the virtues- which here is called ‘rising towards heaven’- and is been qualified by the attributes of God Almighty. Upon this subject, Sheik Sabestari states in his ‘Garden of Roses’ (Golsan-e raz):
“When the ‘possible’ being rises like dust, nothing is left but the essential Being’.
The explanation for this is that when the spiritual pilgrim (al salik) is being characterized by His Lord’s attributes so that nothing is left in regard of his unveiling (kasf) and its direct contemplation (suhud) but the Being truly real (al-mawgud al-haqiqi) which is, in turn, independent in existence and attributes of perfection; then the pilgrim’s attributes with all the attributes of perfection return to the Almighty’s attributes, identical to His essence (ayn datihi), as if his essence and all the possible essences with her would be consumed in the absolutely one and necessary Essence, resulting in having any essence and attribute left than the Necessary One, the Almighty and His attributes which are His very essence. This is to be comprehended in the meaning of erasure and annihilation (al-inmiha wa l-idmihlal), and not in terms of unification and conjunction. (al-ittihad wa l-ittisal), as some confused minds would understand it-God is way above all of this! The perfecting of the soul is done according to them in the knowledge if this: None is truly qualified by the existence and the attributes of perfection but God-Truth, and that the defective attributes return to the possible forms and shapes (al-mahiyat al-gawaziya), denied of true reality, like all things characterized by them-This should be enough to shed some light upon this verse.
In summary, when the total and true love between God-Truth and His loyal servants reaps the level of perfection, He honors them with the famous and precious garment of His superior Attributes, he inducts them upon the cushion of Glory, devoted to the essential attributes of the absolute Oneness (sefat-e dat-e ahadiyat), until the moment when the lover and the beloved reach a place where their attributes are not distinct anymore, even though the essence of the liege (vassal, marbub) is still characterized by the fact of being possible. Likewise, the piece of iron that the blacksmith put into the furnace. After a while, there is no difference between it and the fire. However, the iron remains iron and the fire remains fire. And Rumi, may his intimate secret be sanctified (quddisa sirruhu), after this comparison been given wrote this in his ‘Matnavi’:
“That you are fire, or Iron, don’t say a thing;
Of the comparer and the compared don’t make fun.”
A selection of sayings attributed to Asclepios:
‘Galen declared about the image of Asclepios that was found in their temples, that it was the image of a bearded man, with abundant hair with long locks, wearing a laurel wreath.
He said also: ‘If you would contemplate it (the image) you would find him standing, his whole clothes rolled up ready to practice his art. He was holding with his hand a staff entwined with twigs from the marshmallow flower (Althaea officinalis). On the staff was sculpted the image of an animal gifted with long life wrapped around it, which was a snake (al-tinnin)’.
Here is the secret of his representation under this form and with these ornaments:
The fact of being bearded means that his art demands maturity and chastity (‘iffa); the beard being closer to chastity. That he is standing up with his clothes all rolled up indicates that doctors must philosophize at all time, as it is the task of men with rolled up clothes to go into action.
As for the staff, it shows that the practitioner of medicine could live up to such an old age that the need of a staff for walking would be then required. It is also by the staff that the sleepers are awakened.
I say that the staff could be a metaphor for wisdom and the sleepers a metaphor for ignorance. By the gift of wisdom, the wise wakes up men from the slumber of ignorance and the sleep of oblivion (gufla).
As for the representation of the staff with entwined twigs of marshmallow flowers, doctors suggested that marshmallow is a remedy bringing a moderate heat with many blessings, let it be used pure or mixed. It is for this reason, its name, Althaea, in Greek is derived from ‘to heal’ (ἄλθειν, althein), by which they indicated that the marshmallow flower offered many benefactory blessings. The twist of the staff and the many twigs indicate the multiplicity of species and the specialization that exist in the art of medicine.
The snake representation can have many reasons: Perhaps because it is an animal with piercing sight, gifted with great attention, that never sleeps-alike the man eager to learn the art of medicine that must not be deterred by sleep but embody the greatest intelligence in order to be able to anticipate, then prevent what is coming or what is to come. They say that this animal, I mean that snake, is gifted with a very long life, because it is possible for practitioners of this art to prolongate the length of their lives.
The laurel wreath is explained by the property of this tree to chase away affliction-alike the doctors must chase away from them the many afflictions surrounding them. Also, this tree is known for its power to cure diseases. This is why when planted in a place, the venomous snakes flee away. The fruit of this tree, called laurel seed, acts in the manner of a ‘castoreum’ (gondbidastar) after one has anointed the whole body.’
‘Who knows the time, does not neglect preparation’.
‘The devout without any knowledge is like the donkey at the mill, always turning without knowing what it is doing’.
‘The person who abstain from abject food by fear of hurt in this life, but does not refrain from a sin in fear of the future life surprises me.’
‘How many epochs have we cursed, to praise them after, when gone? How many things have we disliked at the beginning to cry after them once they were lost?’
‘Often be silent, as it is the healing of hate; practice sincerity as it is the embellishment of speech.’
To someone who asked Asclepios about his life, he answered:
“Yesterday death, today action, tomorrow hope.’