Health & Healing

Aloha, buona serra from Rome,

I’d be remiss if I didn’t learn a little about Italian & Greek practices in health and healing.

I’ve already mentioned my visit to Epidaurus, which was built in the 3rd century BC. The highlight for most is the huge amphitheater with perfect acoustics, but I was more interested in the history of this place as a one for healing, and the attitudes and beliefs about healing in ancient times.

Asclepius was the son of a mortal mother and the god Apollo who inherited healing powers from the blood of a Gorgon. Asclepius was said to have been such a good doctor that he could bring people back from the dead; this ticked off Zeus for a while, but Asclepius proved himself worthy over time and Zeus eventually declared him to be a god. He had several daughters, including Panacea and Hygeia.

He was adopted by Roman culture, the spelling of his name changed only slightly.  The Roman goddess Minerva (Greek Athena) oversees wisdom, wars, schools and commerce, but another form, Minerva Medica is the goddess of medicine and doctors.

His healing center was at Epidaurus, meaning outside or on top of—EPI, and aura—AURA. This is an indication of the holistic sense of wellbeing and healing.  When people were ill, they were first taken into a round room, called a tholos, and made to spend the night with snakes, sort of a shock therapy; their overnight dreams would be interpreted to identify what kind of medicine or treatment would be required for healing. This is where the snakes on the staff of Asclepius come in. If the patient survived s/he was taken to the hospital. At Epidaurus, we saw where physicians trained and saw patients in the hospital, including old instruments and guidebooks to healing certain conditions.

A descendant of Asclepius is Hippocrates, a Greek physician who first documented the sacred responsibility to the patient and whose oath, the Hippocratic Oath, is sworn by medical doctors today.

The guide we had for four days and who took us to Epidaurus happened to be 7.5 months pregnant (although she was the smallest hapai woman I’ve ever seen). She had her first baby 3+ years ago via Caesarean—yes, they call it this even in Greece—and expects to do the same in December. As I had the opportunity to share that both of my daughter’s babies were born in my home within the last three years, we learned from Maritsa that it’s illegal in Greece to give birth at home, but in Holland, where she often vacations, there is an entire movement and developing infrastructure to support home births.

In Ephesus, there is a hospital on one side of the ancient main street and a pharmacy on the other, both symbols in use today. Good hygiene was practiced in Greece and ancient Rome and these practices seem to have been exported to other areas of southern Europe and what was called Asia Minor centuries before Christ was born.

What happened to the continuation of this knowledge? Why is Hungarian Ignać Semmelweiss (read The Cry of the Covenant), albeit posthumously, credited with the preceeding Pasteur’s germ theory with the notion that hand-washing reduce deaths due to infections among women giving birth.

I’ve already talked about the public toilets in Ephesus, Turkey. These practices, indeed early public health practices, appear to have been brought in with Romans of old. Romans introduced public baths, heated, warm, and cold, and a sewer system built in 8th century BC that preceded the Roman aqueducts by nearly 300 years. The Scholastica Baths of Ephesus that included waters of various temperatures and properties, followed by a good scrubbing and body work were further developed into a higher form, today known as Turkish baths.

My next trip will include more of Turkey and definitely a Turkish bath.

It seems that Heracles understood that disease was coming in from the harbors. Not only is he responsible for assuring that Kusadasi harbor was dredged—3 times—to prevent the spread of malaria, but also for setting up hand washing stations at the gates of Ephesus that all desiring entry were compelled to pass. They were also scanned by cootie agents for good health and if they appeared to be unwell, they were denied access or whisked away to the nearest hospital.

Such practices were talked about in Delphi and Olympia, too. The Olympic games, a tribute to Zeus and first held in 6th century BC, were all about celebrating the body and its excellence. Baths were integral to the start of the preparation of the physical competitions, which also included music and art for the holistic health of the citizens. In Delphi, there was a cleansing ritual to undergo before seeking wisdom from the Oracle. As seen in pī kai, or cleansing practices, today in Hawai‘i, there was a purification ritual that was common before accessing sacred places or engaging in meaningful activities.

One thing I noticed in Rome is that there are few obese people, although we saw more as we left Rome, in the more rural areas of Italy. This is similar in France. The average life expectancy for Italians is 78 and 84 for men and women, respectively.

There were many more chubby people in Greece, though not so many on Santorini which I attribute to the many steep hills that are being climbed daily. The life expectancy for Greeks is 77 & 82 for men and women.

Both have national health care programs, although Greece spends more per capita on health care, and has higher chronic disease rates.

An interesting about traveling at this particular time is that group travel has been impelled to be proactive about educating tourists to prevent swine flu and other heebie jeebies from spreading. On the cruise ship and on group tours, guides in Greece are now required to mention H1N1 and advise people to sneeze into their elbows (I heard many jokes by hearty people about whether one could actually reach one’s mouth with one’s elbow), wash hands frequently, use the many new alcohol sterilizers in group dining places, and to confine oneself if flu symptoms arise.

Finally, medical students often find it helpful to have some working knowledge of Latin to help them with the medical names, but it should be noted that most medical words are actually Greek in origin: psychology, gynecology, pharmacy, epiderm, ectoderm, hygiene, etc., etc., etc.

Turkey – Ephesus and Flying Carpets

Aloha to all from Santorini,

Kane and Zeus have been introduced and are having a powwow or tete-a-tete or halawai or something for there’s thunder aplenty, lightning illuminating the offshore volcanic crater and rain that pours into  my window if I don’t close my shutters.  Walked around Thira for about 20 minutes before the heavens opened.

I realized that my Turkey stories need to be separated from those of Patmos, so I include them here separately.

 Ephesus, TurkeyEphesus, TurkeyNike swish found in teh folds of her gown

EPHESUS, TURKEY – 18 October

 Barely two hours out of Patmos, the ship pulled in to Kusadasi, a port in Turkey.  Kus-Adas means bird-island, and there is one off shore, somewhat like Mont St. Michel, but smaller.

A 20-minute bus ride landed us in Old Ephesus, EFF-eh-soos.

Ephesus dates back to 10 BC, re-established in about 600 BC, and finally re-settled as Ephesus around 300 BC.  It is the third of three historical settlements in this area known for the worship of Artemis.  St. Paul is said to have sent some important letters to the Catholic church in Ephesus and, although ruled by Romans just before Christ was born, it was an early hub for Christians who co-existed with pantheists.  St. John, whom we have recently learned about in Patmos, was from Ephesus, and there are numerous letters to his followers in Ephesus from Patmos during his exile.  It served as a turning point as Christianity slowly took hold in this area of the world. 

There is healing temple marked with a staff of Asclepius, across the marble way from the pharmacy.  Hadrian, one of the first physicians practied in Ephesus and, understanding that disease was being brought in on trade ships, is credited for draining Kusadasi Port 3 times–I think this makes him the first epidemiologist.  We saw numerous temples, arches and other memorials.  There is the classic relief of Nike, goddess of victory, with the “swish” preserved in her flowing gown.

Our guide was a delightful, innocent-looking Turkish man named Kamber, who invited us to call him Kam.  He was full of stories and anecdotes and we let group after group pass us as he regaled us with more history and mythology.  I believe he was the only tour guide who took his group to the public toilets.

Kamber on the public toilet, Ephesus

Apparently this was also a place to meet and to socialize, a place where deals were made, such as the golf course or ‘awa bar today.  In fact, there was a corner of this great room where musicians regularly entertained the “patrons.”  With up to 30 or 40 holes carved in marble, men conducted their business.  A sophisticated aqueduct system washed it all away.  In this era BTP (before toilet paper), sponges from the sea were attached to wooden sticks and used where needed.

Kamber particularly liked to quote Heracles:  To be a master one must first be a slave.

We finally arrived at the great forum….. In particular, there are statues of four muses/goddesses:  Wisdom, Justice, Intelligence and Science.Cuertes WaySymbol outside a store in the marketplace indicating proprietor is Christian-friendly, Ephesus.EphesusScienceAthena is everywhereJusticeGreece 2009 791Celsus LibraryAncient depiction representing a round Earth beneath this foot.Greece 2009 776

The piece de resistance was the great amphitheater.  Beautifully preserved, it has exceptional acoustics and accommodated 55,000 spectators.  It took me less than five minutes to get to the top of the stands.

 Stadium at Ephesus, capacity 25,000Praying I don't fall backwards from top of Ephesus stadium.Stadium at Ephesus from the TOP!


Welcome to Turkey


The end of this historic afternoon was surreal, a scene out of a Steve Martin skit.  We were taken to a fancy carpet shop in Kusadasi, a jewelry store downstairs and a showroom upstairs.  Guided by olive-skinned young men wearing collared shirts and gold chains, we were directed upstairs, seated on a large U-shaped couch, and served warm apple cider.  A spokesman—perhaps he could be compared to a hired auctioneer—began to tell us about rugs made in Turkey.  Again and again he emphasized how superior rugs made in Turkey are compared to those made in Persia and other places.  Why?  Because, Turk style is “double-nutted” unlike the others’ “single-nutted” methods.  This means there is a double knot that anchors the threads to the mat so that the more you pull, or vacuum, the stronger the knot.  Carpets that go bald are likely single-nutted rugs that gradually lose their threads with wear and tear. (See video)

With barely time to contemplate the benefits of double-nuts, the spokesman, flanked by two young Turkish men, snapped his fingers and as he described each large rug, the boys whipped out rugs in our direction that appeared as if they would roll right over us, but, indeed, stopped inches away.  Carpet after carpet, rug after rug, double-nut after double-nut, they flew at us, in an assortment of colors, styles, designs and quality.  And then to fulfill our Aladdin fantasies, the spokesman asks, “Have you ever seen a flying carpet?” and as he spoke his assistants each flew a 3×5 rug into a perfect spiral landing at our feet to a chorus of oohs and aahs.  I expected to hear the voice of Robin Williams as the genie. 

An excellent and far more reverent article can be found in the NYT.

At the conclusion of the presentation that eventually informed us that Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Euros, dollars or pounds would all be accepted, and that all purchases would be shipped for free, the auctioneer called upon his staff to assist us, rich and hypnotized clients.  Out from behind the screen come not two or three, but I’d say 20 salesmen—only men—to assist us with our purchases.  Smartly, each homed in on a middle-aged married couple, which freed me up considerably.  I could listen to the individual pitches, make comments, and touch the carpets with little hard sell in my direction.  But they have to try.  As I made my way to the exit admiring this rug and that one, a salesman asked, “Which do you like, Mademoiselle?”  I simply opened my arms to the room replying, “I like them all!”  Another attempt or two, but I was finally released with a smile and a thank you to make my way downstairs.Carpet salesmen, KusadasiRolling out the Turkish carpetsTurkish carpet

Flying carpets, Kusadasi

One last gelato before boarding the ship.

Kusadasi Port

Fishermen, Kusadasi

Bird Island, or Pigeon Island


BYE-BYE Kusadasi…bye-bye Aquamarine

Leaving Kusadasi, TurkeyBye-bye Kusadasi

P.S.  photos are taking a painfully long time, so will be publishing notes and photos separately sometimes.  Keep checking back, if you’re interested in more photos.  Or for quality, see those by Kalei & Alohalani.

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie     (c)