Caduceus vs. Rod of Asclepius

Commerce

Medicine

The two symbols to the left have very different meanings! If you are talking about medicine, use the symbol on the right! If you are talking about commerce, use the symbol on the left!

The symbol on the far left is the Caduceus, a rod with wings and two snakes wrapped around it. It is the symbol for the ancient Greek god Hermes. Hermes is known for being a messenger of the gods, guide to the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves. The Caduceus is generally used today as a symbol of commerce.

The symbol to the right is the Rod of Asclepius. It is a rod with one snake wrapped around it. It is the symbol for the ancient Greek god Asclepius, known as a god of medicine. It is used today as a symbol for the medical profession.

Why do they get confused in the U.S.?
In 1902 the US Army Medical Corp chose the Caduceus as their insignia. Most scholars regard this as a huge mistake. The US Army writes that the Caduceus represents “the non-combatant status of military medicine on the battlefield”. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes, “Among the ancient Greeks and Romans [the Caduceus] became the badge of heralds and ambassadors, signifying their inviolability.” So maybe the US Army was thinking the symbol would convey a sense of “… Hey, hey, hey, don’t kill me, I’m just a messenger delivering the wounded to the hospital…” or some such. That feels like a stretch to me, but what do I know? More importantly, saying “I’m just a messenger” is, at best, nonsensical on a doctor’s scrubs. At worst, it’s terrifying! A person wearing this badge would be, in theory much more likely to kill you (protector of the dead!), sell your organs (protector of merchants!), feed your body to the dogs (shepherds!), hock your jewelry (gamblers!), and tell your mom he hasn’t seen you in a week (liars and thieves!) than help you. Seriously!

There are many articles where historians and professionals delve into this issue. Almost all of them say the US Medical Corps are using the wrong symbol. Here’s a few to get you started:

2 Comments

  1. Lee says:

    It’s misinformative and somewhat insulting to see the wrong symbol being used.

    Wikipedia has several good articles that are very well referenced:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus_as_a_symbol_of_medicine
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius

  2. Lee says:

    The Google Search for “medical symbol” prominently shows the wrong symbol. I sent them feedback. Maybe they’ll update it.

    I wrote to them: The “medical symbol” is the Rod of Asclepius (one snake on a rod), not the Caduceus (two snakes on winged staff). All of the google search links mention that there is often confusion but point out the truth.

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