21648921911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 9 — EpidaurusErnest Arthur Gardner

EPIDAURUS, the name of two ancient cities of southern Greece.

1. A maritime city situated on the eastern coast of Argolis, sometimes distinguished as ἡ ἱερὰ Ἐπίδαυρος, or Epidaurus the Holy. It stood on a small rocky peninsula with a natural harbour on the northern side and an open but serviceable bay on the southern; and from this position acquired the epithet of δίστομος, or the two-mouthed. Its narrow but fertile territory consisted of a plain shut in on all sides except towards the sea by considerable elevations, among which the most remarkable were Mount Arachnaeon and Titthion. The conterminous states were Corinth, Argos, Troezen and Hermione. Its proximity to Athens and the islands of the Saronic gulf, the commercial advantages of its position, and the fame of its temple of Asclepius combined to make Epidaurus a place of no small importance. Its origin was ascribed to a Carian colony, whose memory was possibly preserved in Epicarus, the earlier name of the city; it was afterwards occupied by Ionians, and appears to have incorporated a body of Phlegyans from Thessaly. The Ionians in turn succumbed to the Dorians of Argos, who, according to the legend, were led by Deiphontes; and from that time the city continued to preserve its Dorian character. It not only colonized the neighbouring islands, and founded the city of Aegina, by which it was ultimately outstripped in wealth and power, but also took part with the people of Argos and Troezen in their settlements in the south of Asia Minor. The monarchical government introduced by Deiphontes gave way to an oligarchy, and the oligarchy degenerated into a despotism. When Procles the tyrant was carried captive by Periander of Corinth, the oligarchy was restored, and the people of Epidaurus continued ever afterwards close allies of the Spartan power. The governing body consisted of 180 members, chosen from certain influential families, and the executive was entrusted to a select committee of artynae (from ἀρτύνειν, to manage). The rural population, who had no share in the affairs of the city, were called κονίποδες (“dusty-feet”). Among the objects of interest described by Pausanias as extant in Epidaurus are the image of Athena Cissaea in the Acropolis, the temple of Dionysus and Artemis, a shrine of Aphrodite, statues of Asclepius and his wife Epione, and a temple of Hera. The site of the last is identified with the chapel of St Nicolas; a few portions of the outer walls of the city can be traced; and the name Epidaurus is still preserved by the little village of Nea-Epidavros, or Pidhavro.

The Hieron (sacred precinct) of Asclepius, which lies inland about 8 m. from the town of Epidaurus, has been thoroughly excavated by the Greek Archaeological Society since the year 1881, under the direction of M. Kavvadias. In addition to the sacred precinct, with its temples and other buildings, the theatre and stadium have been cleared; and several other extensive buildings, including baths, gymnasia, and a hospital for invalids, have also been found. The sacred road from Epidaurus, which is flanked by tombs, approaches the precinct through a gateway or propylaea. The chief buildings are grouped together, and include temples of Asclepius and Artemis, the Tholos, and the Abaton, or portico where the patients slept. In addition to remains of architecture and sculpture, some of them of high merit, there have been found many inscriptions, throwing light on the cures attributed to the god. The chief buildings outside the sacred precinct are the theatre and the stadium.

The temple of Asclepius, which contained the gold and ivory statue by Thrasymedes of Paros, had six columns at the ends and eleven at the sides; it was raised on stages and approached by a ramp at the eastern front. An inscription has been found recording the contracts for building this temple; it dates from about 460 B.C. The sculptor Timotheus—one of those who collaborated in the Mausoleum—is mentioned as undertaking to make the acroteria that stood on the ends of the pediments, and also models for the sculpture that filled one of them. Some of this sculpture has been found; the acroteria are Nereids mounted on sea-horses, and one pediment contained a battle of Greeks and Amazons. The great altar lay to the south of the temple, and a little to the east of it are what appear to be the remains of an earlier altar, built into the corner of a large square edifice of Roman date, perhaps a house of the priests. Just to the south of this are the foundations of a small temple of Artemis. The Tholos lay to the south-west of the temple of Asclepius; it must, when perfect, have been one of the most beautiful buildings in Greece; the exquisite carving of its mouldings is only equalled by that of the Erechtheum at Athens. It consisted of a circular chamber, surrounded on the outside by a Doric colonnade, and on the inside by a Corinthian one. The architect was Polyclitus, probably to be identified with the younger sculptor of that name. In the inscription recording the contracts for its building it is called the Thymele; and this name may give the clue to its purpose; it was probably the idealized architectural representative of a primitive pit of sacrifice, such as may still be seen in the Asclepianum at Athens. The foundations now visible present a very curious appearance, consisting of a series of concentric walls. Those in the middle are thin, having only the pavement of the cella to support, and are provided with doors and partitions that make a sort of subterranean labyrinth. There is no evidence for the statement sometimes made that there was a well or spring below the Tholos. North of the Tholos is the long portico described in inscriptions as the Abaton; it is on two different levels, and the lower or western portion of it had two storeys, of which the upper one was on a level with the ground in the eastern portion. Here the invalids used to sleep when consulting the god, and the inscriptions found here record not only the method of consulting the god, but the manner of his cures. Some of the inscriptions are contemporary dedications; but those which give us most information are long lists of cases, evidently compiled by the priests from the dedications in the sanctuary, or from tradition. There is no reason to doubt that most of the records have at least a basis of fact, for the cases are in accord with well-attested phenomena of a similar nature at the present day; but there are others, such as the miraculous mending of a broken vase, which suggest either invention or trickery.

In early times, though there is considerable variety in the cases treated and the methods of cure, there are certain characteristics common to the majority of the cases. The patient consulting the god sleeps in the Abaton, sees certain visions, and, as a result, comes forth cured the next morning. Sometimes there seem to be surgical cases, like that of a man who had a spear-head extracted from his jaw, and found it laid in his hands when he awoke in the morning, and there are many examples resembling those known at the present day at Lourdes or Tenos, where hysterical or other similar affections are cured by the influence of imagination or sudden emotion. It is, however, difficult to make any scientific use of the records, owing to the indiscriminate manner in which genuine and apocryphal cases are mingled, and circumstantial details are added. We learn the practice of later times from some dedicated inscriptions. Apparently the old faith-healing had lost its efficacy, and the priests substituted for it elaborate prescriptions as to diet, baths and regimen which must have made Epidaurus and its visitors resemble their counterparts in a modern spa. At this time there were extensive buildings provided for the accommodation of invalids, some of which have been discovered and partially cleared; one was built by Antoninus Pius. They were in the form of great courtyards surrounded by colonnades and chambers.

Between the precinct and the theatre was a large gymnasium, which was in later times converted to other purposes, a small odeum being built in the middle of it. In a valley just to the south-west of the precinct is the stadium, of which the seats and goal are well preserved. There is a gutter round the level space of the stadium, with basins at intervals for the use of spectators or competitors, and a post at every hundred feet of the course, thus dividing it into six portions. The goal, which is well preserved at the upper end, is similar to that at Olympia; it consists of a sill of stone sunk level with the ground, with parallel grooves for the feet of the runners at starting, and sockets to hold the posts that separated the spaces assigned to the various competitors, and served as guides to them in running. For these were substituted later a set of stone columns resembling those in the proscenium of a theatre. There was doubtless a similar sill at the lower end for the start of the stadium, this upper one being intended for the start of the diaulos and longer races.

The theatre still deserves the praise given it by Pausanias as the most beautiful in Greece. The auditorium is in remarkable preservation, almost every seat being still in situ, except a few where the supporting walls have given way on the wings. The whole plan is drawn from three centres, the outer portion of the curves being arcs of a larger circle than the one used for the central portion; the complete circle of the orchestra is marked by a sill of white limestone, and greatly enhances the effect of the whole. There are benches with backs not only in the bottom row, but also above and below the diazoma. The acoustic properties of the theatre are extraordinarily good, a speaker in the orchestra being heard throughout the auditorium without raising his voice. The stage buildings are not preserved much above their foundations, and show signs of later repairs; but their general character can be clearly seen. They consist of a long rectangular building, with a proscenium or column front which almost forms a tangent to the circle of the orchestra; at the middle and at either end of this proscenium are doors leading into the orchestra, those at the end set in projecting wings; the top of the proscenium is approached by a ramp, of which the lower part is still preserved, running parallel to the parodi, but sloping up as they slope down. The proscenium was originally about 14 ft. high and 12 ft. broad; so corresponding approximately to the Greek stage as described by Vitruvius. M. Kavvadias, who excavated the theatre, believes that the proscenium is contemporary with the rest of the theatre, which, like the Tholos, was built by Polyclitus (the younger); but Professor W. Dörpfeld maintains that it is a later addition. In any case, the theatre at Epidaurus ranks as the most typical of Greek theatres, both from the simplicity of its plan and the beauty of its proportions.

See Pausanias i. 29; Expédition de la Morée, ii.; Curtius, Peloponnesus, ii.; Transactions of Roy. Soc. of Lit., 2nd series, vol. ii.; Weclawski, De rebus Epidauriorum (Posen, 1854).

The excavations at the Hieron have been recorded as they went on in the Πρακτικά of the Greek Archaeological Society, especially for 1881–1884 and 1889, and also in the Ἐφημερὶς Ἀρχαιολογική, especially for 1883 and 1885; see also Kavvadias, Les Fouilles d’Épidaure and Τὸ Ἱερὸν τοῦ Ἀσκληπιοῦ ἐν Ἐπιδαύρῳ καὶ ἡ θεράπεια τῶν ἀσθενῶν; Defrasse and Lechat, Épidaure. A museum was completed in 1910.

2. A city of Peloponnesus on the east coast of Laconia, distinguished by the epithet of Limera (either “The Well-havened” or “The Hungry”). It was founded by the people of Epidaurus the Holy, and its principal temples were those of Asclepius and Aphrodite. It was abandoned during the middle ages; its inhabitants took possession of the promontory of Minoa, turned it into an island, and built and fortified thereon the city of Monembasia, which became the most flourishing of all the towns in the Morea, and gave its name to the well-known Malmsey or Malvasia wine. The ruins of Epidaurus are to be seen at the place now called Palaea Monemvasia.

A third Epidaurus was situated in Illyricum, on the site of the present Ragusa Vecchia; but it is not mentioned till the time of the civil wars of Pompey and Caesar, and has no special interest.  (E. Gr.)