"Sick Child Brought into the Temple of Aesculapius," John William Waterhouse, 1877, Wikiart photo.
“Sick Child Brought into the Temple of Aesculapius,” John William Waterhouse, 1877, Wikiart photo.

To look upon his face was neither permitted
Nor desired, too horrific for mortal eyes
To behold. Life torn with tragedy, fires
Consumed Acheron’s family and his home,
Burns sustained in saving them, suffering
Searing blisters, their abrupt deaths more
Merciful than enduring endless pain.

Known as “River of Sorrows and Deep
Woes,” Acheron was an oceanside wanderer,
Bandaged beggar, petty thief, who existed
In misery of self-guilt, forever distraught,
His healing burns tortuous, his body bent
From anguished scars, chided was Acheron,
Plight upon Greek fishers and their shores.

By chance or plan divine, Acheron stumbled
Upon temple of Asklepios, stadia and medi-
Cinal fonts, oil balms and healing snakes,
Priests found rag-torn Acheron crouched in
Inner sanctuaries, devouring fruit for votive
Offerings to gods of medicine and health,
Vagrant trespassing and bereft.

As legend tells, healing deities overheard
Acheron’s plaintive prayers, to end his pains
Accursed, his face veiled in modest shame,
Burns disfiguring and deep. With passions
Great, their bosoms moved, gods instructed
Priests for Acheron to disrobe, his rags burned
With animals slain for ritual sacrifice.

Torn too late from fire’s wrath, Acheron stood,
His head bald and earless, scars in grotesque
Upheavals, one hand fingers missing, he existed
Half-decade more monstrous than vital man. As
Directed, priests ushered his mortal frame into
Asclepius-blessed healing pools, holy pantheon
Of celestial life-preserving gods.

Into sanctified baths Acheron stepped,
Immersed until bubbling breath had ceased,
End of human torments, mystical waters
Upwelling, quaking temple peristyles, tim-
Brelled strains aloft, Acheron emerged with
Gasping breaths, reborn as Astræus, radiant
Metamorphosis of god and mortal man.

Of marrow mingled with divine, healing love
Arose, sacrament of blood and wine, new
Creation flowed, Astræus visited temple sick
And crippled, touches of his sacred robes,
Soothing pools and ointments, rod with ser-
Pents entwined, grievous ill given treatment
At the adyton, sacred chamber of Greek gods.

To look upon the face of Astræus was neither
Permitted nor desired, too divine for mortal
Eyes to behold. His resurrection was wrought
From tragedy, raging fires defiled and deified
His flesh, transforming burned beggar into
God of healing rites, columns of his ruined
Temples in Greece still stand upright.

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also
a matter of opportunity.” ― Hippocrates
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