CADUCEUS: The Visual Symbol of Medical Profession By Dr. Kabita Mishra, BHMS, MBA (Hospital)
VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF MEDICAL
Caduceus is the winged rod
with double serpents, used
A Study By
Dr. Kabita Mishra | BHMS, MBA (Hospital)
Senior Research Fellow (Homoeopathy)
Central Research Institute for Homoeopathy | NOIDA | INDIA
The caduceus is the traditional symbol of Hermes and features
two snakes winding around an often winged staff. It is often
mistakenly used as a symbol of medicine instead of the Rod of
Asclepius, especially in the United States. The two-snake
caduceus design has ancient and consistent associations with
trade, eloquence, trickery, and negotiation. Tangential
association of the caduceus with medicine has occurred through
the ages, where it was sometimes associated with-alchemy and
wisdom. The caduceus as a symbol of medicine became
established in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th
In 1854, this symbol was adopted by Great Britain, in United
States of America’s Public Health Service adopted this symbol in
1889, the U.S. Army Medical Corps Branch Plaque adopted this
symbol in 1902.
This image is carved on a green
steatite vase made for king Gudea of
Lagash of Sumer (2200 – 2025 BCE)
which is in the Louvre Museum, Paris
The Homeric hymn to Hermes relates how Hermes offered his
lyre fashioned from a tortoise shell as compensation for
the cattle he stole from his half brother Apollo. Apollo in return
gave Hermes the caduceus as a gesture of friendship.
The association with the serpent thus connects Hermes
to Apollo, as later the serpent was associated with Asclepius,
the son of Apollo. The association of Apollo with the serpent is a
older Indo-European dragon-slayer
motif. Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher in 1913, pointed out that the
serpent as an attribute of both Hermes and Asclepius is a variant
of the "pre-historic semi-chthonic serpent hero known at Delphi
as Python", who in classical mythology is slain by Apollo.
One Greek myth of origin of the caduceus is part of the story
of Tiresias, who found two snakes copulating and killed the
female with his staff. Tiresias was immediately turned into a
woman, and so remained until he was able to repeat the act
with the male snake seven years later. This staff later came into
the possession of the god Hermes, along with its transformative
Another myth suggests that Hermes or Mercury, saw two
serpents entwined in mortal combat. Separating them with his
wand he brought about peace between them, and as a result
the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of peace.
In Rome, Livy refers to the caduceator who negotiated peace
arrangements under the diplomatic protection of the caduceus
hiskerukeion, on an Attic lekythos,
ca 480 to 470 BC, attributed to
the Tithonos Painter
Pair of Dove
In Christian Iconography, a dove symbolizes Holy Spirit, in
reference to Matthew3:16 and Luke 3:22 where the Holy Spirit
is compared to a dove at the Baptism of Jesus. The early
Christians in Rome incorporated into their funerary art the
image of a dove carrying an olive branch, often accompanied by
the word "Peace". It seems that they derived this image from
the simile in the Gospels, combining it with the symbol of the
olive branch, which had been used to represent peace by the
Greeks and Romans.
goddessesAtargatis, Ishtar, Inanna, Astarte and Aphrodite are all depicted
with doves. The legendary queen Semiramis was raised by
doves, connecting her to the goddesses. In the Epic of
Gilgamesh the dove was released to search for the end of the
In the composition of caduceus, the pair of dove symbolizes,
Peace of Mind and Soul with Health and Wisdom.
The Rod of Asclepius takes its name from the
god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing
and medicinal arts in Greek mythology.
Asclepius's attributes, the snake and the staff,
sometimes depicted separately in antiquity,
are combined in this symbol.
The original Hippocratic Oath began with the
invocation "I swear by Apollo the Physician
and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea
and by all the gods ...".
In the composition of caduceus, the Rod of
Asclepius symbolizes, Strength by Health or
Life with Good Health.
depicted as a bearded man
wearing a robe and holding
a staff in his left hand with
entwined around it.
PAIR OF SNAKES
In about 1600 BC the Snake Goddess who is
probably associated with the Cretan myth
about- where the snake knows the herb of
rebirth and resurrection in India.
The worship of serpent deities is present in
several old cultures, particularly in religion
and mythology, where snakes were seen as
entities of strength and renewal.
In the composition of caduceus, the Pair of
Snakes symbolizes, Strength and Renewal of
The altar where Jory
Goddess is worshiped.
Belur temple, Karnataka,
1. “Asclepius, Caduceus, and Simurgh as Medical Symbols, PartI”, Touraj Nayernouri, MD FRCS, Arch Iran Med 2010; 13 (1): 6168, Archives of Iranian Medicine, Volume-13, Number-1, January