The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine

By Walter J. Friedlander | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

A student parks his car on the street just in front of my office at the medical college; on the back window is a round decal which has the name of the medical school on the outer rim and in the center is a caduceus--a short rod entwined by two snakes and topped by a pair of wings.

Anyone who wishes to buy their doctor a present can go to the Gift Shop in the University Hospital where there are a variety of objects that have a caduceus on them: coffee cups, tie clasps, plaques, etc.

Some of the patients who are admitted to the hospital receive from the Director a nicely printed card welcoming them; on the card is a caduceus.

Two of the other hospitals that are in the vicinity of the College of Medicine prominently display a caduceus at their entrances.

Not infrequently I receive in the mail advertisements for health insurance from companies that include in their logo a caduceus. The notices which are commonly mailed to physicians to announce a doctor opening a new office has embossed on them a caduceus.

And I certainly cannot forget the caduceus I wore on my lapel when I was a medical officer in the United States Army.

It seems obvious that a close association has been established between the caduceus and the practice of medicine. In the United States the caduceus appears to be the more popular of the two commonly used symbols of medicine; the other is the staff of the Greek and Roman demigod of medicine, Aesculapius. However, when I turn, as for example, to a dictionary of Greek and Roman mythology I find that the caduceus was the magic rod of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, "deity of wealth, god of trade and travelers, of commerce, manual skill, oratory and eloquence, of thieves, and of the wind. . .and patron of athletes." 1 With these attributes, how did his wand become the symbol of medicine?

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The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Medical Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Foreword xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Note 3
  • 2 - Definition of the Caduceus 5
  • Notes 12
  • 3 - Development of the Structure of the Caduceus 13
  • Notes 29
  • 4 - Hermes 31
  • Notes 59
  • 5 - Egyptian Hermes 61
  • Notes 81
  • 6 - Caduceus in Medicine: Sixteenth Through Nineteenth Centuries 83
  • 7 - Caduceus as a Printer's Mark 109
  • 8 - U. S. Army's Medical Department Adopts the Caduceus 127
  • Notes 144
  • 9 - Present 145
  • Notes 154
  • 10 - Summary 155
  • Appendix I Persistence of Confusion About Hermes 159
  • Notes 165
  • Appendix II History of the American Medical Association's Official Symbol 167
  • Notes 169
  • Selected Bibliography 171
  • Index 175
  • About the Author 183
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