Frieze from Roman Philippopolis (3rd AD),
from left to right: Luna, Iaso, Telesphorus, Asclepius,
Panacea, Epione, Machaion, Padaleirios.
© Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv,
Bulgaria (RAM – Plovdiv)
Hellenic Polytheism is not just about the worship of the Twelve Olympians, but, on the contrary of a great number of divinities capable to have a straightforward and personal contact with the supplicant. One such divinity is Telesphorus, son of Asclepius. The interesting element of the God is that still today there is a debate of His origin, which is been discussed briefly at the Genius Cucullatus Exhibition online presentation here. In short there are two main hypotheses for Telesphorus origins; the Gallatian and the Greco-Roman hypothesis. Unfortunately, this online presentation - which of course provides a great amount of information, mainly in favour of Telesphorus Gallic origin - overlook the 1976 archaeological report by James Wiseman and Djordje Mano-Zissi in Journal of Field Archaeology, where Telesphorus terracotta figurines have been discovered in graves, dated on the 2nd century BC (p. 278-279). An additional artefact depicting Telesphorus is available at the Science Museum London collection dated in between 500 to 200 BC possibly originated from Boeotia (see here). Regardless of the scholarly debate, the worship and ritualistic importance of the Hero, Telesphorus, is very interesting.

Telesphorus' cult established a place of worship with Asclepius in Epidaurus, as an important deity of ritualistic healing in the 2nd to 3rd century AD. We know that because of the two inscription found in Edpidaurus (IG IV2: 1, 421-561), as well as a hymn for the Hero as part of a collection of ritual hymns of Asclepius and Hygieia (IG, II2, 4533), recorded by Nilsson (1945) from Athens. Although, His was attested, as pointed above, in Macedonia and in Boeotia from the 2nd century and probably as early as the 3rd century, in Athens and Epidaurus we have no record prior of the 2nd century AD. His name was, for the first time, recorded in Pergamon, 100 AD, (Inscr. Perg. VIII 3, 125). One of his famous suppliant was Aelius Aristides (AD 117 - 181) a popular Greek orator. Aelius wrote of his healing experience in what is known as Hieroi Logoi or Sacred Tales, which in fact were presented as Orations (47-56) all first published in Aelii Aristidis quae supersuni omnia by Keil, Bruno (Berlin, 1898) for more detail discussion and bibliographical reference see Pearcy (1988).

Telesphoros was depicted as a small cloaked child usually standing next to Asclepius legs in Roman art. In the Macedonian tombs His was seen with young children - a connection with His role as protector of infants and young children - see Wiseman and Zissi (1976). Etymologically, His name means 'bringing fulfilment' (LSJ) which suggest that He involved in the process of dream healing.  The hymn as seen below was recorded by Furley and Bremer, Greek Hymns. Volume II. Greek Texts and Commentary (7.7.1):

Νέ<ον> ὦ θάλος ἄφθιτον [ ]
] Τελεσφόρε σὰς ἀρετὰς [ ]
] πάνσοφε λυσιπόνοι[ο θεοῦ υἱέ]
[κλει]νὲ δ<ά>ημον ...
... γένη μερόπων                                                                                  5
ἀνεγείρατε ἐκ <κ>αμάτων
βαρυαλγέα νοῦσων ἀπωσαμένω.
Παιὰν δὲ γέγηθεν ἀκειρεκόμης
νέον ἔρνος ἔχων σε, Τελεσφόρε, τὸν περὶ κῆρι φιλεῖ
καὶ πολλάκις ἐ[κ β]αθέος καμάτου                                                         10
βροτὸν ἐς φ[άο]ς εὔδ[ι]ον αὐτὸς ἄγων
μετὰ σοῦ, βαρυαν[... Λ]ητοΐδη
-χαῖρέ μοι ὦ ἰώμενος, ὦ
πολύ[τιμ]ε Τελεσφόρε- παίζει,
σὺ δὲ γηθοσύ[νοις ] περὶ φαιδρὰ πρόσω-                                                15
πα γέλωτα χέεις ἱεροῖ[σιν].

The hymn above, it may have been used, as suggested by Nilsson, as an element of the healing ritual procedure at the Asclepieion in Epidaurus, similar to that of Athens, "wake up Asclepius, ruler of the peoples, cast the sleep from thy eyes [...]" (IG, II2, 4533). An additional point is Telesphorus connection with epithets commonly used for Apollo, such as Παιὰν and ἀκειρεκόμης, which can be explained with the fact that the cult of Asclepius is closely connected with this of Apollo. I will continue with Telesphorus in a future post and His connection to a broader elements of ritual practice in Epidaurus.

Martin P. Nilsson (1945). Pagan Divine Service in Late Antiquity The Harvard Theological Review, 63-69

Pearcy, L. (1988). Theme, Dream, and Narrative: Reading the Sacred Tales of Aelius Aristides Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), 118 DOI: 10.2307/284178

Wiseman, J., & Mano-Zissi, D. (1976). Stobi: A City of Ancient Macedonia Journal of Field Archaeology, 3 (3) DOI: 10.2307/529437