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

By Walter J. Friedlander | Go to book overview

The sixth chapter discusses the history of the caduceus as a symbol of medicine from the beginning of the fifteenth century until the end of the nineteenth. Evidence will be offered that for the first 250 to 300 years of this period, the caduceus was employed in some medical situations, but probably not as a symbol specific for this profession. Rather it was a means of conveying to the person who was assigned this symbol certain positive characteristics attributed to Hermes or Mercury, such as wisdom or eloquence. At the same time, the caduceus continued to be associated with other specific activities closely aligned with the ancient functions of these gods, such as commerce or peaceful negotiations.

The use of the caduceus in the printer's marks by publishers of medical books has been a topic of considerable interest. Chapter Seven gives evidence that early printers used the caduceus not as a medical symbol, but rather to convey the idea that, as publishers, they were followers of Hermes and dispensed messages, particularly on a commercial basis. This is in contrast to nineteenth century and later medical publishers who, probably through misinterpretation as well as a desire to imitate a successful contemporary publisher of medical books, John Churchill, assumed that the caduceus had some unique association with medicine.

An event which was particularly important in accounting for the present day acceptance of the caduceus as a symbol of medicine is discussed in Chapter Eight, the adoption in 1902 of this sign as the official insignia of the United States Army Medical Department. The ninth chapter is concerned with the situation as it exists today. The last chapter summarizes the history that has been presented and offers a conclusion.


NOTE
1.
Zimmerman J. E. Dictionary of Classical Mythology. New York: Bantam, 1964, p. 124.

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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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