There are times when you question all rules. This was one of those times. As he gazed upon the dual bottle, he pondered the dual meaning of the pharmakon. That which heals, misused, can also bring death – which is why the very word pharmakon meant both remedy and poison.
In this case, however, the dualities were separate, though tangled: two glass vials with their necks spiraling around each other. Both held the blood of the Gorgon, but from different sides of the slain monster. One, from the left would cause instant death, while the other, from the right side, he had been told, could restore life to a body that had lost it.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, through the fabric of his chiton, and heard the voice of his wife repeating herself. “You don't have to do this, love. Your duty is to the living, not the dead.”
“If I have the power to restore life, doesn't this obligate me to do so? How can I leave him dead, knowing he could live again?”
“Life and death are matters for the gods, Asklepios . . .and the Fates. Not for us.”
He turned and gazed down into her eyes. “And if death comes from injustice? You've heard the story. Do you believe he did it?”
After a moment she shook her head. “That he raped his own stepmother? No. From what I've heard from others, Hippolytus had no interest even in girls his own age. He was too in love with Artemis, with hunting and riding and perfecting the grace of his body, to notice the effect it had upon the fairer sex.”
“Yet his stepmother killed herself, and accused him of being the cause of it, in her suicide note. You cannot blame Theseus for avenging his wife's death...even if he had to call in a favor from Poseidon to do it.”
Epione smiled sadly. “Whose side are you on, my love? You hold life and death in your hands, but you seem to be trying to talk yourself out of acting. Not that I am complaining, but whose side are you on? That of Hippolytus, who died, or Theseus, who had him killed?”
His eyes flashed. “I am on the side of life,” he said. “How can I be otherwise? I was trained to protect it, to defend it. Is restoring it outside my duties, if I have the means?”
She was about to answer when they both heard a shout from outside. The cart bearing the body of the slain youth had finally arrived.
The blameless physician looked at his wife. “I love you,” he said, “but I cannot let Death win this fight. The boy was innocent.” He turned the to the newcomers. “Put him on the table,” he said, pointing to the one in the courtyard.
His hands did not shake as he removed the cork from one of the twinned vials. Zeus will understand, he thought. Perhaps Hades will have a different opinion, when I rob him of a new citizen of the Underworld. But Zeus will know why I have to do this.
It was quickly done, the work of a moment. He poured a little of the blood from the life-giving vial into the boy's wounds and resealed it. No turning back now.
The boy's eyes opened, as his wounds closed and mended. He turned his head and tried to speak to Asklepios. But in that instant, the scene froze. The faces around the physician were as statues of flesh. What was this?
Above him in the sky, clouds darkened and thundered. They say that Zeus, who is also called the Cloud Minder, hurls thunderbolts. And he does, in a way, but the paintings of him actually holding the lethal bolts are merely metaphors.
Nonetheless, the thunderbolt descended.
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