Friday, September 26, 2008

Chapter 11 "Caduceus"

The caduceus or wand of Hermes is typically depicted as a short herald's staff entwined by two serpents in the form of a double helix, and sometimes surmounted by wings. In later Antiquity the caduceus may have provided the basis for the astrological symbol representing the planet Mercury and in Roman iconography was often depicted being carried in the left hand of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, gamblers, liars and thieves.

The caduceus is sometimes used as a symbol for medicine, especially in North America, through confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius, which has only a single snake and no wings. Given the historically attested use of this emblem, its adoption as a symbol of medicine is a great irony.

As early as 1910, Dr. William Hayes Ward discovered that symbols similar to the classical caduceus appeared not infrequently on Mesopotamian cylinder seals. He suggested the symbol originated some time between 3000 and 4000 BCE, and that it might have been the source of the Greek caduceus. A.L. Frothingham incorporated Dr. Ward's research into his own work, published in 1916, in which he suggested that the prototype of Hermes was an "Oriental deity of Babylonian extraction" represented in his earliest form as a snake god. From this perspective, the caduceus was originally representative of Hermes himself, in his early form as the god Ningishzida, "messenger" of the "Earth Mother". However, more recent classical scholarship makes no mention of Babylonian origin for Hermes or the caduceus.

Among the Greeks the caduceus is thought to have originally been a herald's staff. The Latin word caduceus (possibly caduceum) is an adaptation of the Greek kerukeion, meaning "herald's wand (or staff)", deriving from kerux, meaning "herald" or "public messenger", which in turn is related to kerusso, meaning "to announce" (often in the capacity of herald). The staff of the herald is thought to have developed from a shepherd's crook, in the form of a forked olive branch adorned with first two fillets of wool, then with white ribbons and finally with two snakes intertwined. However no explanation as to how such an object would be practically used as a functional crook by shepherds is offered.

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 in to the possession of the god Hermes, along with its transformative powers. Another myth relates how Hermes played a lyre fashioned from a tortoise shell for Apollo, and in return was appointed ambassador of the gods with the caduceus as a symbol of his office. Another tale suggests that Hermes (or more properly the Roman 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 he carried.

Ive added this information, in case you want to find out what and where is the Symbol from.

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