The ‘correct’ symbol of medicine, which is a knarled wooden staff with a single encircling snake held in the image by Asclepius who stands frowning centre-stage. A widely used—and incorrect—alternative symbol for medicine is the Caduceus a magic wand with two snakes, held by the Roman god Mercury, also known as Hermes in Greek mythology.
If you’ve ever seen the World Health Organization or American Medical Association logo, or the “star of life” on the side of an ambulance, you might have wondered what a snake wrapped around a stick has to do with those who fix what ails us. Well, that stick is the asklepian, or rod of Asclepius. In ancient Greek mythology, Asclepius was the son of Apollo, and the god of medicine and healing. Depending on which historian you ask, he may have even been based on an actual historical doctor whose skills became so exaggerated that patients formed a cult around him.
The snake that's wrapped around the rod may symbolize rejuvenation, because snakes shed their skin, or it could simply represent the healing of snakebites. It might also have something to do with antivenom or the medicinal properties of snake venoms.
The rod itself has more to do with medicine than the fact that a doctor-god carried it, though the explanations for the connection vary. It could be a reference to a traditional treatment of a parasitic nematode called Dracunculus medinensis or Guinea worm. The worm causes blisters on whatever limb it takes up residence in, which can be can be quite painful judging from the ancient Latin name for the infection: "affliction with little dragons." To remove the parasite, doctors would cut a slit in the skin right in its path and, when it poked its head from the wound, take a small stick and slowly wrap the worm around it until the “little dragon” was fully removed.
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