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April 2, 1973

Alexander of AbonoteichusFalse Priest of Asclepius

Author Affiliations

From the departments of urology and history of medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York.

JAMA. 1973;224(1):87-89. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220140061012

Toward the end of the second century AD, the satirist Lucian scathingly attacked a daring and intelligent charlatan, Alexander, who came from Abonoteichus in Asia. In addition to Lucian's writings, archeologic and numismatic finds attest the way the fame of Alexander and his oracular serpent, Glykon, spread throughout a large part of the Roman world. But not until we read Lucian's story, Alexander the False Magician, does he emerge, very much alive, as the unscrupulous founder of an Asclepian cult at a time when orthodox paganism was in decline. Glykon was no ordinary healing serpent, since he spoke oracles which, when they backfired, sent shock waves as far as the Imperial Throne of Marcus Aurelius himself! The recent discovery of a bronze statuette of Glykon during excavation of the Athenian Agora further exemplifies the way that artefacts confirm statements by ancient authors.

Alexander, born in the Black Sea city of