Current Medical Issues

: 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 210--211

Is it one or two?

Ramya Iyadurai, OC Abraham 
 Department of Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Ramya Iyadurai
Department of Medicine, Christian Medical College, Vellore - 632 004, Tamil Nadu

How to cite this article:
Iyadurai R, Abraham O C. Is it one or two?.Curr Med Issues 2022;20:210-211

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Iyadurai R, Abraham O C. Is it one or two?. Curr Med Issues [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 3 ];20:210-211
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Full Text

Which of the following is the representation of the medicine? The other is representative of commerce, ambassadors, magic, and alchemy [Figure 1] and [Figure 2].{Figure 1}{Figure 2}

Most of us will opt for the familiar picture of two snakes around the staff; only 4% of doctors were able to identify the correct symbol of medicine in India.[1]

The staff with two snakes around it is that of Hermes called the Caduceus and the staff with the single snake is the staff of Aesculapius which was used to symbolize medicine.

Aesculapius the son of Apollo is the father of medicine; his symbol was a tree branch that had a single snake around it. Legend has that Aesculapius had observed a snake revive his dead fellow snake with herbs and hence the snake was added to the staff to depict the healing powers. Hence, the staff with the single snake was used to symbolize medicine before 1900s.

According to Greek legends, Aesculapius with his healing skills had reduced the number of people passing into the underworld and his grandfather Zeus killed him for committing the sin of healing humans. The Greco Romans had many Aesculpions spread throughout their kingdom. The Aesculpions in Kos and Pergamon were enormous and they were a cross between a sanatorium and hospital. Hippocrates the father of modern medicine claimed to be a direct descendant of Aesculapius.[2],[3]

The Hippocratic Oath starts thus.

“I swear by Apollo Healer, by Aesculapius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”

Hygieia and Panacea were daughters of Aesculapius among his other children Aceso, Iaso, and Aegle, and three sons: Machaon, Podaleirios, and Telesphoros with Epione and a son Aratus with Aristodoma.

Hermes was the messenger God of the Greeks and his staff had two snakes which are balanced and symmetrical with a set of wings on top. This staff has its own name called the Caduceus meaning heralds wand it was a symbol of the diplomatic ambassadors in the Greek kingdom and was associated with commerce.[2]

Why the staff of Hermes is widely used to represent medicine and healing?

There are two theories – John Churchill of the Churchill publications London (Some of us might recognize these publications from the [Educational Low-Priced Book Scheme]) used the symmetrical staff of Hermes to represent his publications of medical text popularizing the symbol in the commonwealth countries and America.[4]

The second theory is that the adoption of the Caduceus by the United States Army Medical Corps as the uniform medical insignia on the recommendation of assistant surgeon Captain Frederick Reynolds resulted in its popularity worldwide.[5]

According to Greek legends, Hermes was benevolent to humans unlike his attitude toward fellow Gods. He is considered the god of ambassadors, merchants, and travelers, and a guide to the underworld.

It is time to set the symbols right by replacing the staff of Hermes with the staff of Aesculapius in our institutions.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


1Wilcox RA, Whitham EM. The symbol of modern medicine: Why one snake is more than two. Ann Intern Med 2003;138:673-7.
2Bailey JE. Asklepios: Ancient hero of medical caring. Ann Intern Med 1996;124:257-63.
3Edelstein EJ, Edelstein L. Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies. Vol. 1, 2. Baltimore John Hopkins Univ Pr; 1998.
4Friedlander WJ. The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine. New York: Greenwood Press; 1992.
5McCulloch CC. The coat of arms of the medical corps. Mil Surg 1917;41:137-48.