It is telling too that the peony (Gr. paionia), a plant with haemostatic properties, was given by the gods to Apollo because he was a physician. Apollo subsequently gave it to his son, Asklepios. The name Paieon is attributed to the god from as early as the second millennium BC, in Mycenaean texts. Later, it became an epithet of Apollo as healing god. The hymn to Apollo, invoking him to relieve man of misfortunes, is called paian or paean.
Apollo, god and physician of the gods, appears to be the personification of therapeutic power. Capable of sending diseases and plagues to mankind, from the time of the Homeric epics, Apollo could, of course, prevent these or cure those suffering from them.
In the Euxine Pontus Apollo was named familiarly "Iatros" (= physician), while he also had curative powers as Apollo Maleatas on Κynortion, a mountain with many springs, which looms to the southeast of the valley of the Asklepieion of Epidavros. The very ancient cult born there, which was from the outset linked with securing divine aid to ensure health, was destined to develop into the most important healing cult of antiquity, that of Apollo.
The ancient Greeks were wont to trace their beginnings to mythical figures, and in order to prove the existence of these, they associated them with ruins. The three burials and the ruined buildings on the highest peak of Kynortion, of the third millennium BC, must have been the “proof” that here lived heroic ancestors who were gradually transformed into mythical heroes. Among them was the ancestral hero Malas, mythical king of Epidavros, founder of the cult of Apollo Maleatas on Kynortion and, myth has it, great grandfather of Asklepios.
Mount Kynortion was the locus of a very ancient cult in which believers sought healing by magical means. This included purification with water and a “communal” meal with the god. The ceremonial was continued when Apollo Maleatas became lord of the land, while it was kept also in the later Asklepieion of Epidavros, with the additional new element of incubation or enkoimeses (cure in the sleep).
At the top of the mountain, behind the Theatre of the Asklepieion of Epidavros, human presence is attested by three burials dated c. 2800 BC, which were revered until the end of antiquity. In the middle years of the third millennium BC, a small agricultural and stock-raising community existed, possibly because of the existence of many springs. After the third millennium BC the area remained without buildings. In the sixteenth century BC, a sanctuary was established, which enjoyed a heyday throughout the Mycenaean period (1550-1100 BC). The principal deity worshipped was a nature goddess. The Mycenaean sanctuary, unusually large for its time, included an “ash altar”, where animal sacrifices were made.
These were followed by a ceremonial meal. One part of the animal, usually the bones, fell into the pyre as an offering to the god, one part was broiled on skewers for the devotees and one part was boiled so that they took the meat with them as a blessing. This procedure was called “theoxenia” because the pilgrims believed that they offered hospitality (Gr. philoxenia) to the god (Gr. theos), who ate with them his own portion. The consumption of the divine food, a kind of holy communion, provided animal strength.
The Sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas was founded in the eighth century BC. After the founding of the Sanctuary of Asklepios in the adjacent valley, in the sixth century BC, father and son were worshipped in the now twin “Sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas and Asklepios”.
The Epidaurians never ceased to take care of the sanctuary on Mount Kynortion. Around 550 BC the cult of Apollo Maleatas was housed in a naiskos, which was replaced by a Doric temple in 380 BC.
In the fourth century BC a Temenos of the Muses was created. In the second century AD the house of the priests (“skana”) was rebuilt, a nymphaeum (building with fountain), an arched cistern, and other edifices were constructed, gift of the Roman senator Antoninus.