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Old 06-26-2011, 03:16 PM
surrounded by literalists surrounded by literalists is offline
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Caduceus vs. Staff of Asklepios

I came across a book in the library, "The Rod and the Serpent of Asklepios", which opened my eyes to the fact that in the US, the primary symbol for medicine is the Caduceus, the staff of Mercury. In the rest of the world, the symbol for medicine is the Staff of Asklepios.

The symbolism of the Staff of Asklepios makes sense to me because Askelpios was the Greek God of Healing. However, the Caduceus as a symbol of healing falls a little flat since Mercury was the God of War and sometimes commerce.

While trying to find out the reasons for the U.S. using the Caduceus as a symbol for medicine, I came across one theory that said during WWI, the US army made a mistake, and accidentally put the Caduceus on all medical equipment instead of the staff of Asklepios. Nobody bothered to correct the error and so the Caduceus is still used today.

Can anybody shed some more light on this error? Is it true? Does another reason exist? Maybe even a link to a reliable source of information?
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Old 06-26-2011, 03:53 PM
AHarris AHarris is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by surrounded by literalists View Post

The symbolism of the Staff of Asklepios makes sense to me because Askelpios was the Greek God of Healing. However, the Caduceus as a symbol of healing falls a little flat since Mercury was the God of War and sometimes commerce.
I can't speak to the rest of it, but Mars was the Roman god of war.

According to wiki, Mercury was the god of trade (as well as the messenger of the gods).
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Old 06-26-2011, 03:58 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Being a big fan of mythology and stuff, I looked up the caduceus and staff of asculapius quite a while ago. According to a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Society in the April 26, 1985 issue (Vol. 253, #16, p. 2369) the US started using the caduceus as a medical symbol in 1856, when it was selected by the US Marine Hospital Corps. The Surgeon General's crest, designed in 1818, used the single-snake staff of Asculapius. . In 1871 the Public Health Service used the caduceus, and in 1902 the US Army Medical Corps started using it. So the "mistake" goes back wel before WWI. The article, by Robert E. Rakel, M.D., suggests the more pleasing symmetry of the caduceus as making it more appealing. He cites no other reasons for the choices, but it should be pointed out that, clearly, the US has used both symbols.


Actually, the use of the caduceus long predates any confusion by the US Armed Forces. Printer Johannes Frohen in the 16th century put the two-snake Caduceus on the covers of his medical texts. (from JAMA April 24, 1996 Vol,.275 #16 p. 1232)



There's another article on the history of the Caduceus and Staff of Asculapius in the New England Journal of Medicine for Feb. 13, 1958 (Vol. 258 #7, pp. 334-6, by J. Lewis Bremer M.D., which also notes the Asculapian staff on the Surgeon Generqal's seal, and has a drawing of it. He notes that the New England Journal of Medicine uses Asculapius, too.


A final, personal observation -- I've looked at lots of depictions of Hermes/Mercury on ancient vases and the like. I'm not altogether convinced that what he has is a staff with two snakes twined around it. In most of the depictions, the staff has two "horns" that resemble snake heads only in the general curvature -- they have no girth to them, and if you saw them in isoltation you would never think they were snake heads. Nor do I accept that the paintings are too small for the needed details -- there are plenty of tiny details in vase paintings, and some of the depictions of Hermes and his staff are quite large. I really do think that, in the oldest depictions, the staff does not show twinned snakes on the shaft, and this might be a later interpretation.
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Old 06-26-2011, 04:46 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is offline
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Originally Posted by surrounded by literalists View Post
Does another reason exist?
Looking at the two, I suspect that one reason is simply aesthetics; the caduceus looks better than the Rod of Asclepius due to being more symmetrical.
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Old 06-26-2011, 04:51 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Originally Posted by Der Trihs View Post
Looking at the two, I suspect that one reason is simply aesthetics; the caduceus looks better than the Rod of Asclepius due to being more symmetrical.
Quote:
The article, by Robert E. Rakel, M.D., suggests the more pleasing symmetry of the caduceus as making it more appealing. He cites no other reasons for the choices, but it should be pointed out that, clearly, the US has used both symbols.
nn
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Old 06-26-2011, 04:55 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is offline
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Bah, I missed that somehow.
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  #7  
Old 06-26-2011, 05:12 PM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Just a guess, but has anyone made any link between the use of the symbol and Hermes Trismegistus as patron of magic and alchemy?
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Old 06-26-2011, 10:32 PM
Alan Smithee Alan Smithee is offline
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Mercury being the god of trade, the caduceus is traditionally a symbol of merchants and commerce. Obviously, it's because in the US medicine has become subordinate to commerce in healthcare with doctors selling their treatment to whoever can afford it, while in the rest of the world healthcare is provided universally.

OK, that's complete BS, but I'm pretty sure I saw it suggested once. It is an ironic symbolism, isn't it?
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Old 06-26-2011, 10:53 PM
Apollyon Apollyon is offline
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Originally Posted by AHarris View Post
According to wiki, Mercury was the god of trade (as well as the messenger of the gods).
... also thieves... so perhaps...
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  #10  
Old 06-27-2011, 12:56 AM
Parenchyma Parenchyma is offline
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This is my favorite one with real, live snakes.
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