There are different theories on the etymology of Asclepius, all of which I want to understand.

According to Wikipedia:

The etymology of the name is unknown. In his revised version of Frisk's Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Greek Etymological Dictionary), R. S. P. Beekes gives this summary of the different attempts:

"H. Grégoire (with R. Goossens and M. Mathieu) in Asklépios, Apollon Smintheus et Rudra 1949 (Mém. Acad. Roy. de Belgique. Cl. d. lettres. 2. sér. 45), explains the name as 'the mole-hero', connecting σκάλοψ, ἀσπάλαξ 'mole' and refers to the resemblance of the Tholos in Epidauros and the building of a mole. (Thus Puhvel, Comp. Mythol. 1987, 135.) But the variants of Asklepios and those of the word for 'mole' do not agree.The name is typical for Pre-Greek words; apart from minor variations (β for π, αλ(α)for λα) we find α/αι (a well known variation; Fur. 335–339) followed by -γλαπ- or -σκλαπ-/-σχλαπ/β-, i.e. a voiced velar(without -σ-) or a voiceless velar (or an aspirated one: we know that there was no distinction between the three in the substr. language) with a -σ-. I think that the -σ-renders an original affricate, which (prob. as δ) was lost before the -γ- (in Greek the group -σγ- is rare, and certainly before another consonant). Szemerényi's etymology (JHS 94, 1974, 155) from Hitt. assula(a)- 'well-being' and piya- 'give' cannot be correct, as it does not explain the velar."

Beekes suggested a Pre-Greek proto-form *Atyklap-.

The Cult of Asclepius was already popular by the 5th Century BC so why would the god derive his name from a Tholoi built in 360 BC? Does that theory sound plausible or far-fetched?

According to Wiktionary:

From ἀ- (a-, “"negative prefix"”), σκέλλω (skéllō, “I dry”) and ποιέω (poiéō, “I do, make”).

Does that seem reasonable to anybody? And I'm not sure what exactly it means, and how on earth that would relate to the god Asclepius, or how his name could derive from that?

According to H.G.Liddell, RS:

D. is said to have made it proparox. Ἀσκλήπιος, deriving it from ἤπιος,Plu.2.845b.)

And concerning ἤπιος says:

1.of persons, gentle, mild, kind, πατὴρ δ᾽ ὣς ἤπιος ἦεν Hom.:—c. dat. pers., id=Hom., Trag.

2.of sentiments, ἤπια εἰδέναι to have kindly feelings, Hom.; πρὸςτὸ ἠπιώτερον καταστῆσαί τινα to bring him to a milder mood, Thuc.

II.act. soothing, assuaging, of medicines, Il., etc.

2.ἤπιον ἦμαρ, c. inf., a day favourable for beginning a thing, Hes.

III.adv. ἠπίως, Hdt., Soph

This last theory, of HGL,RS, seems the most plausible to me, but leaves me wondering what they think the beginning Ἀσκλ- derives from?

  • 3
    In your link about the Tholos at Epidaurus "360 CE" is a grotesque blunder for "360 BC".
    – fdb
    Jun 11, 2018 at 11:28
  • @fdb grotesque indeed. Thanks for pointing that out.
    – Johan88
    Jun 11, 2018 at 12:33
  • 2
    The last theory is a made-up etymology by Demosthenes, which like practically all ancient etymologies has no value. Here's the quote form Plutarch (tr. G. N. Bernardakis): "He [Demosthenes] likewise used to swear by Asclepius, and accented the second syllable (᾿Ασκλήπιος) through some mistake, and yet afterwards defended it; for this Asclepius, he said, was called ἤπιος, that is a mild God." Wiktionary's derivation too is like something you'd find in the Cratylos rather than a scientific etymology.
    – TKR
    Aug 15, 2018 at 3:06
  • 1
    You misunderstand Grégoire. When scholars say "resemble", they do not mean "come directly from," but instead "are somehow related." You see this all the time in dictionaries, where a Latin word contains "cf. Greek cognate", but of course no one thinks the Greek is original, just that the two are related.
    – cmw
    Feb 9, 2021 at 4:58

1 Answer 1


I'm abusing the answer space since there is no option in comments for this. The full, finessed, Beekes 2010 dictionary (vI) has enter image description here

I am only including it to display the variants in dialects, which Beekes uses to deadly effect, when it comes to Pre-Greek, his forte. A healing deity is not unexpected to have been inherited from the sophisticated earlier inhabitants of the land.

He is compelled to reconstruct *(a)-s𝑦klap-.

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