Viewing Health: Asclepia in their Natural Settings

Patricia Baker
2017 Religion in the Roman Empire  
Petsalis-Diὁmiἶiὅ haὅ ὄeἵeὀtly aὄgueἶ iὀ heὄ ὅtuἶy ὁf χeliuὅ χὄiὅtiἶeὅ' ἶeὅἵὄiptiὁὀὅ ὁf the Asclepion at Pergamum that his visual experience at the site, as well as other sanctuaries, helped to facilitate the ritual facets of the healing process. 1 The sense of sight allowed for a connection between the pilgrim and Asclepius to be made, which was achieved through viewing three sacred features: a sanctified area associated with the deity, such as his birthplace; the objects and votive offerings
more » ... d votive offerings donated at the sites; and processions and rituals enacted in the sanctuaries. 2 Although there is no doubt that seeing and participating in these devotional activities played a significant role in the healing event, the natural landscape surrounding the sanctuaries was also visible to the pilgrims. Viewing it, too, I will argue, was vital for the restoration of body and mind, as the Roman writer Vitruvius indicates in his book On Architecture. When commenting on the construction of colonnades at theatres, he said, the spaces between colonnades that are open to the sky should have green plots because they are healthy fὁὄ the eyeὅ.' 3 Moreover, throughout his text, Vitruvius wrote about the placement of structures and rooms that took into consideration light, temperature and winds to promote good health. 4 He was not alone in expressing these ideas; many Greco-Roman medical and nonmedical writers mentioned the importance of geographic location and water quality for the health of a population. 5 Yet, what iὅ ὅigὀifiἵaὀt abὁut the ὅtatemeὀt ὁf Vitὄuviuὅ' iὅ that he indicates that the sense of sight and viewing natural vistas and colours were important for the pὄὁmὁtiὁὀ ὁf health, ὁὄ at leaὅt that ὁf the eyeὅ, beἵauὅe the aiὄ fὄὁm theὅe iὅ 'ὅubtle aὀἶ ὄaὄefieἶ' aὀἶ 'wheὀ it flὁwὅ thὄὁugh the bὁἶy helpὅ ὄemὁve thiἵk humὁuὄὅ iὀ the eyeὅ, ἵleaὄiὀg viὅiὁὀ.' 6 In this paper, it is maintained that the Greeks and Romans believed there existed a 1 Petsalis-Diomidis 2005 2 Petsalis-Diomidis 2005: 188-189. These rituals were part of a process of a visual dialogue described by Petridou 2013, Petsalis-Diomidis 2008, and Elsner 2007 that allowed a pilgrim to commune with the god through ritual participation. 3 De Architectura η.λ.η 'The open spaces which are between the colonnades under the open sky, are to be arranged with green plots; because walks in the open are very healthy, first for the eyes, because from the green plantations, the air being subtle and rarefied, flows into the body as it moves, clears the vision, and so by removing the thick humὁuὄ fὄὁm the eyeὅ, leaveὅ the glaὀἵe ἶefiὀeἶ aὀἶ the image ἵleaὄly maὄkeἶ.' 'Media vero spatia quae erunt subdiu inter porticus, adornanda viridibus videntur, quod hypaethroe ambulationes habent magnam salubritatem. Et primum oculorum, quod ex viridibus subtilis et extenuatus aer propter motionem corporis influens perlimat speciem et ita auferens ex oculis umorem crassum, aciem tenuem et acutam speciem relinquit.' (translation:
doi:10.1628/219944617x15008820103342 fatcat:hr3ng24h4jdljcyj7itj57whgm