Visiting an Asclepion
This activity for GCSE Medicine comes from Stephen Lodge and his departmental colleagues who teach in Hampshire. It’s an active and engaging way of introducing what happened at an Asclepion and getting students thinking about the links between natural and supernatural cures. Stephen notes:
‘I use this as an introduction to the Asclepeia. Whilst we will have usually had a lesson prior to this introducing Greek Society / Medicine, they will have no prior knowledge on the topic covered.’
Here is Stephen’s description of the activity.
1. Requirements - 10 pupils who know what they are doing and lots of enthusiasm.
2. Print copies of simple worksheet - with 5 boxes and a large title box - all blank.
3. Find possible props Ė one or two toy snakes (e.g. draught excluders?) would add to the atmosphere.
1. Starter: Hand out worksheets with 5 boxes and a large title box - all blank. Have class think of an injury or disease that people in Ancient Greece might have suffered from (only catch is it must be curable using 'modern medicine'). Pupils have then to list any symptoms and modern cures for this illness in the large title box on their sheet.
[I prefer to use a curable disease as they can relate more directly to the effectiveness of the treatment received by the patients. If they pick an incurable illness then the treatment always fails and we lose the ability to assess the progressive elements of the Asclepion].
2. Whilst the class is working on their symptoms this select 10 pupils. These 10 pupils are going to run a section of the Asclepion, 2 for each section as follows:
a. Exercise - Stress Olympic links, though remind them it would have been all performed naked.
b. Washing - hot sauna, cold bath, cover in oil.
c. Feasting and worship
d. Sleeping in the Abaton, whilst high on Opium and dreaming of Asclepius coming to heal them. This is where a toy snake or two might come in handy.
e. Priests performing cures and surgery - what really happened whilst asleep
3. After preparing pupils, send the rest of the class outside with worksheet.
Explain to class outside what is going to happen, that they will be visiting an Asclepion to see if their illness can be cured. At each stage they must record what happens and whether it would have cured them.
4. As pupils re-enter the room collect their payment for entering the Asclepion - from money, goats, linen etc.
[Having already studied Greek Society they are aware of the different sections within society and so come up with their own payment. If pupils are unsure I usually make up something for them as they walk through the door, "What have you brought as an offering John"... Blank stare from pupils, to which I respond "ohh a lovely Goat / Sock / Measuring Stick / Talking Box / Worthless Greek Government Bond, how very kind of you". You could have an entry fee list at the door, (Adult: One Goat / Four Sheep /30 Olives/ 1 gold coin/ 4 rolls of linen / 1 rule on trigonometry) which might remove the necessity of prior knowledge on Greek society.]
5. Now this is where there is some flexibility - I found having one of the pairs of pupils come to the front and run each stage, with the other 8 providing encouragement worked really well. Alternatively you split the pupils visiting the Asclepion into 2 groups or even 5 and have them engage with each activity. As they learn about the 5 aspects of the Asclepion they must make notes on whatís happening and whether itís likely to help.
1. By the end the class should have notes on all 5 sections, and whether or not they have been cured. Then we have feedback via class discussion, with us recording on the board cases of successful and not so successful cures, the reasons why, and linking to ideas like natural / supernatural / factors etc.
2. As a final activity students could make a votive offering. Each could be given a small slip of paper, on which they rate their treatment 1 - 3 (1. cured 2. Not Sure 3. Made them Worse) with a brief explanation as to whether it was a 'natural or supernatural' cure, and then they draw their offering on the other side (depending on time). These are presented to the teacher on the way out with an explanation.