Long ago, when kings still ruled the cities of Greece and gods fraternized with mortals, golden Apollo, the lord of light, music, oracles, and medicine, fell in love with a princess, Coronis. When she became pregnant, she feared that no one would believe her story, so she married a friendly prince, an Arcadian. The minute the ring touched her finger, Apollo knew, and he flew into a jealous rage. His sister Artemis, the huntress, tried to console her brother but he was despondent. “Kill them!” he begged her. “Kill them or kill me!” So Artemis left Olympus and slayed Coronus in her own home, with the Arcadian beside her. Apollo could feel her die, and he rushed down to Earth. When he saw her laid out, still strangely beautiful and strong, he pushed his sister away and cradled her body in his arms. It was then that he felt the baby still kicking and he quickly cut his son out of her. “Asclepius,” he whispered to his son, “cut from your mother, whom I murdered.” And he could no longer look upon him, for his eyes were her eyes.
He took his son to Chiron, the centaur, trainer of heroes. “Learn well, my son,” he told him. “Be better than your father.” Asclepius grew, and took to the healing arts. He became a young man, an excellent physician, and he began caring for the villagers in the lands surrounding Chiron’s compound. With his father’s help, he became so accomplished in medicine that he could bring people back from the brink of death, stealing Hades, the Lord of the Underworld’s, new subjects from him.
“Brother,” Hades said to Zeus on Olympus, “This cannot go on. The natural order of things has been disturbed.” Zeus frowned under dark brows and then, suddenly, a great lightning bolt from Heaven, hurled by the Lord of the Gods himself, Zeus the Father, struck Asclepius where he stood, leaving him nothing but ash, no way to pay the Ferryman.
Apollo felt his son die, felt the emptiness, the longing, the painful humanity that weighed down his soul. He groaned and flew to the island of the Cyclopes, the monsters who make the electric weapons of Zeus. “Father!” the young god yelled. “I created someone good, someone pure and kind, who cared for his fellow man. And you destroyed him without so much as a word to me!” And he rained down arrows on the hapless Cyclopes at their forges until hot metal and blood mixed on the sand.
“Apollo.” Zeus appeared and looked down at his son, covered in the blood of his servants. “Do you think my bolts are my only weapons?” And Zeus made Apollo serve a mortal man, King Admetus, who treated him kindly, and the god blessed him in turn, helped him court his wife. Apollo grew to love the king so much that when he foresaw Admetus’ untimely death, he convinced the Fates to spare his life.
If he could find a replacement….