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Cureus. 2018 Dec 28;10(12):e3789. doi: 10.7759/cureus.3789.

Socrates's Last Words to the Physician God Asklepios: An Ancient Call for a Healing Ethos in Civic Life.

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Internal Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, USA.


Socrates's last words have remained enigmatic despite over two millennia of philosophical, literary, and historical interpretations. This paper suggests that Socrates was executed for questioning the imperialistic actions of Athens in the Peloponnesian War by elevating the emerging cult of Asklepios and advocating for Asklepian ideals. Plato's dialogues show that Socrates saw Asklepios as more worthy of emulation than the warlike gods of the state-supported Greek pantheon. While dying from the executioner's hemlock, Socrates asks his friend Crito to pay the traditional thank offering given to the physician-god: a cock symbolizing rebirth. He looks to the only god then known to revive the dead to help his ideas and spirit live on. Socrates's last words thwart Athenian authorities' attempts to silence him, issue a call for Asklepian ideals to prevail in the city of Athens, and identify the selfless caring for others exemplified by Asklepios as the highest duty for all humans. Socrates calls us from the past to remember timeless Asklepian physician duties to self, patients, and community. Socrates reminds modern physicians of their personal duty to make their own spiritual health their first priority, their professional duty to comfort the sick and alleviate suffering, and their societal duty to advocate for the vulnerable, sick, and suffering and the health of the public.


ascelepius; asklepios; ethics; history of medicine; medical education; palliative care; plato; professionalism; public health; socrates

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The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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