Aegean Day 7


Still on Leros.  After breakfast we went to the Merikia War Tunnel, which is a WWII museum.  The Italians had honeycombed the hills with tunnels, as the Swiss had also done, but that’s in their own country.  When the Italians surrendered to the Allies they brought down on their heads fierce bombardment from the Germans, starting September 8th, 1943.  “The Battle of Leros began on November 11th of 1943 and was one of the most important battles of the Mediterranean.” The Brits had come in to help the Italians, but lost Leros to the Germans.  The islands were held by the Nazis until 1945.


Huh – I didn’t take any photos of the guns or the tunnels.  Just this declaration from the Germans (click to enlarge to read) and this diagram of the navies around Leros, so this other photo from the Net.

Assume we had coffee somewhere after that, but I wasn’t taking notes and don’t remember.


We travel back to Kos, having lunch on the boat and downtime (as I tried to catch up on this blog).  On the way we stop at the station in the Turkish port of Turgutreis to have our passports checked. Don’t know why – they didn’t even check our Turkish visas.  We probably had Tea Time also.

On Kos we bused to the Asclepeion, a huge temple complex dedicated to the demigod Asclepius. This complex took two centuries to complete, with three terraces.  (Look at all of those stairs!  My knee throbs just remembering.) There are these nicely done diagrams all around.  I accidentally cut the top off the section on this one.

On the first terrace were functional and hospital areas in a colonnaded stoa, including two fountains, with water run underground in pottery pipes from a spring uphill, and toilet facilities, also with underground plumbing 26 centuries ago!  The middle level accommodated cult areas, including a temple to Apollo as well as Aselepius, the third tier a large sanctuary.  (A Roman thermal bath complex was added later.)


Maria (that’s her at one of the springs, reading the Greek inscription to us) and Heinrich complement each other – she with the mythology, he with the archeological facts,  using such words as palimpsest (something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form) and the Latin spolia (the repurposing of building stone for new construction). As we sit on the fallen stones, Maria dramatically regales us with the mythology; it is a one-woman show.

Asclepius was a demigod, born of a divine father, Apollo, and a mortal mother, Coronis. While pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis fell in love with a mortal man and married him. This so angered Apollo that he struck both Coronis and her husband dead. As Coronis’ body lay burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo (remembering that she is carrying his child) performed the first Caesarian section, freeing the baby Asclepius from his mother’s womb and certain death. And so, Asclepius’ very birth was due to a heroic act of medical intervention.

Apollo then took the infant to be raised by the wise old centaur Chiron, who taught him the art of healing. Asclepius became a great physician and surgeon, and raised the art of medicine to unprecedented heights.

The goddess Athena gave Asclepius the gift of Medusa’s blood. (Perseus killed Medusa and gave her head to Athena, but that’s a story in itself.) The blood from the veins on the left side of Medusa’s head was for the bane of mankind, but Asclepius used the blood from the veins on the right side for saving mankind and for raising the dead.

Asclepius’ raising of the dead aroused the wrath of Zeus. Not only was Zeus angered to see many of his old enemies, whom he had struck dead with his thunderbolts, returning to life, but his brother Hades, king of the underworld, was complaining about the dearth of new arrivals. And so, Zeus struck Asclepius dead with one of his thunderbolts, fearing the spread of his miraculous art of healing, especially into the wrong hands.

Despite the rumors of his death, Asclepius became a living god. Healing sanctuaries, or Asclepions, were dedicated to him at sacred sites throughout ancient Greece.

Asclepius often used the art of divination to obtain responses from his father Apollo through oracles (and in another story that’s a snake whom Asclepius had healed licking his ears and teaching him ancient secrets of medicine. The famous symbol of Asclepius is the snake entwined staff – a symbol that is still used in the medical field to this day.1)  From these auguries he learned much about the natures of many drugs and herbs, and how to use them in treating disease. This knowledge he passed on to his sons, and to his students (and this knowledge is passed down to Hippocrates).

I have no idea what we did after that.  Possibly dinner on the boat.


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