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

By Walter J. Friedlander | Go to book overview

8
U. S. Army's Medical Department
Adopts the Caduceus

July 17, 1902 is a particularly memorable date in the history of the use of the caduceus in medicine. On that date, the United States Army's General Order No. 81 was issued. It contained new regulations about uniforms for the Army. In this order was the statement that the insignia for the Medical Department was to be "a caduceus, of gold or gilt material." Although there had already been some acceptance of this sign as a symbol for medicine, particularly beginning in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it is tempting to believe that the main reason for the caduceus presently enjoying its great popularity as a symbol for medicine originated with this action of the United States Army. The least that can be said is that such an action must have had a significant role in this popularization.

The history of this sign by the military goes back to ancient times when the caduceus was used as a sign of peace. Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War ( 431- 404 B.C.) spoke of a kerykeion as a sign of peace. This Greek word has been translated as "herald's wand" without it necessarily being specifically the wand of Hermes. The Corinthians sent some of their men to meet the Athenians. They went without a kerykeion in order to demonstrate that they recognized that a state of war did not exist between the two nations; in other words, where there was no war there must have been peace. 1 According to Aulus Gellius, the Roman general, Quitnus Fabius Maximus (d. 203 B.C.). offered his enemy, the Carthaginians, the choice of a spear or a caduceus (caduceum), the Latin word for kerykeion. By this he meant for them to chose between war or peace. 2, 3 Diodorus writing in the first century B.C. said that Zeus gave

to Hermes. . . the introductions of sending embassies to sue for peace, as they are used in wars, and negotiations and truces

-127-

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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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