Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Caduceus vs Asclepius

I just tweeted about this and now I'm inclined to blog about it.

 Caduceus or the Staff of Caduceus: Shown in various forms as a Staff with two serpents wrapped around it, usually with wings at the top.  This is known as the magical wand of Greek god Hermes, messenger of the gods, inventor of (magical) incantations, conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves. It may have gotten its medical connection through Hermes' connection to Alchemy.  In 1902, this symbol was mistakenly used by the US Army as the symbol for their Medical Corps and has become the most recognized symbol of medicine in the US. 

The Staff of Asclepius: Professional and patient centred organizations (such as the NZMA, in fact most medical Associations around the world including the World Health Organization) use the "correct" and traditional symbol of medicine, the staff of Asclepius with a single serpent encircling a staff, classically a rough-hewn knotty tree limb. Asclepius (an ancient Greek physician deified as the god of medicine) is traditionally depicted as a bearded man wearing a robe that leaves his chest uncovered and holding a staff with his sacred single serpent coiled around it, (example right) symbolizing renewal of youth as the serpent casts off its skin. The single serpent staff also appears on a Sumerian vase of c. 2000 B.C. representing the healing god Ningishita, the prototype of the Greek Asklepios.

However, there is a more practical origin postulated which makes sense...

The probable medical origin of the single serpent around a rod: In ancient times infection by parasitic worms was common. The filarial worm Dracunculus medinensis aka "the fiery serpent", aka "the dragon of Medina" aka "the guinea worm" crawled around the victim's body, just under the skin. Physicians treated this infection by cutting a slit in the patient's skin, just in front of the worm's path. As the worm crawled out the cut, the physician carefully wound the pest around a stick until the entire animal had been removed. It is believed that because this type of infection was so common, physicians advertised their services by displaying a sign with the worm on a stick.

Now for the rant.  WHY, would anyone get a tattoo that they are unsure of its origins? Or whether or not it's the right symbol.  Sports fans will tell you! Lets say you wanted to get a tattoo of your city's Team.  We will use the Cowboys (against my better judgement) since they have an easily recognizable symbol.  Lets say I got a blue star tattooed on my chest and then I showed Jerry Jones (The owner of the Cowboys for those of you who aren't sports fans) my tattoo and it looked like this:

Would Jerry Jones approve?  OR  Would Jerry think I'm a FUCKING MORON?

That was rhetorical of course.  The point here folks is please get your symbology right before branding yourself forever.  Unless of course you are or were in the Army Medical Corps... in which case it's ok because that is their adopted symbol.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.


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