The Caduceus symbol, a snake with great meaning

snake symbolism -

The Caduceus symbol, a snake with great meaning

Everybody knows the Greco-Roman mythology mysteries with the famous greek-gods: Poseidon, Zeus (King of the gods), Hera, Athena (Greek Goddess), Hades (Protector of Tartarus), Aphrodite (Goddess of love and beauty), Heracles, Gorgon, Giants, etc. You have the goddess of fertility, the Cyclops. The constellations are filled with the names of the Greek gods, Neptune, Seas, Jupiter, Venus. But also by their fascinating stories that we have: Medusa, nymphs, rat-snake. Thanks to all these stories the Romans left us structures like the pantheon for example. But we are going to focus on the symbol and meaning of the caduceus, a stick surrounded by two venomous snakes, held by a Greek Hero Asclepius. We're going to rely on historians, In which the Roman name is most often used: Aesculapius. For fans of a caduceus or simply snakes, we have a magnificent collection of jewelry giving an original style. 

greek mythology

The story of Asclepius

To begin, we have to start by talking about a famous character from Greek mythology. He is often represented as a bearded man on a throne showing the ancient world, it is said that he invented medicine. He cured poisonous snake bites and brought people back to life. The name Asclepius comes from the Greek words spala, aspala or skalops, expressions used to designate the mole. The Roman mythology by their side gave him the name of Aesculapius (Roman God). Homer, Hesiod, and Pindar are the most famous writers who could talk about this famous character, with their extremes we can deduce that Aesculapius (Asclepius) was a famous doctor and war hero, born in Trica, located in the region of Thessaly, today known as Tricalia. In both mythologies, we can find statues made in ancient times. 

asclepius representation

 Aesculapius was the natural son of the virgin Coronis and was born in a very violent manner, living in the 13th century B.C. He was the god of medicine, protector of health, whom the Greeks worshipped as Asclepios or Asclepios. Questions remain unanswered during Homer's period, we do not know if he was already considered a god or if he was only a doctor. His attributes are the cup, in which he contains the salubrious drink, the traveler's stick on which the snake is coiled, the famous caduceus, which is mentioned in this blog, a sign of divination among the Greeks, and which appears next to all the medical deities.

The historical references of Homer (Homeric) and Hesiod are a mix of reality and myths, so it is very difficult to know the exact history. Homer dedicates to Aesculapius the hymn XIV, for his part, in the Orphic Hymns, Hesiod dedicates the number LXIV to Asclepius.

The most famous story says that Apollo fell in love with Coronis, to whom he presented himself in the form of a swan at the lake of Boibesm, giving birth to the legend of Leda, and taken by her beauty he courted her, and from this union Coronis became pregnant. But Coronis had been promised in marriage by his father to the latter's cousin, Ischis, and planned his next marriage by carrying the son of Apollo in her womb. A raven, which at that time was a white-feathered bird (it is not clear why), brought to Apollo the news of the wedding that Coronis was about to have, and he then became angry, gave the raven black feathers, which he has since carried as a sign of mourning, and shot his arrows at Coronis' groom, while Artemis, Apollo's sister, killed the unfortunate Coronis (Tragic End).

Healing  Asclepius medecine snake

When Apollo saw that his lover was dying, he was filled with compassion for the unborn son. So he took him out of the womb of Coronis and brought him to the cave of the centaur Chiron on earth, in Pelion, Thessaly. Apollo entrusted Aesculapius' education to the centaur Chiron, who instructed him particularly intensively in the art of healing so that he was soon able to practice it himself according to the saga, showing great ease of learning.

When Aesculapius became young, his successes spread all over the world in two fundamental fields: war and medicine. It is said that Aesculapius took part in the Trojan War with his two sons, Machaon and Podalirius, and, according to other versions, he accompanied Jason in the expedition of the Argonauts. In the field of medicine, he became so skilled in the art of healing that in addition to curing the sick, he brought the dead back to life.

Medecine war Asclepius

Aesculapius' family was involved in various activities related to health care and medical practices. His wife, Epione, was a pain reliever. His daughters were Hygeia and Panacea, the former was known as the divinity of health and prophylaxis and Panacea was the divinity of treatment; his sons, Macaón and Podalirio were protective gods for surgeons, while Telesforo, who always accompanied him, meant convalescence.

The death of Aesculapius is as tragic as his birth being marked by the influence of myth and the participation of the gods of Olympus. Pluto accused him of having reduced the number of souls descended into hell and Zeus, in revenge, killed him with his rays. After his death, Aesculapius was revered as a god, originally in his honor the Asclepios or medical shrines where the Greek people went in search of lost health.

Impact in the culture

Medical historians agree that the cult of Aesculapius originated in Thessaly around the 6th century BC, when temples dedicated to his cult, called Asclepiones, appeared either in Trika (according to the Iliad and Hesiod) or in Epidaurus (according to archaeological discoveries). The influence of his cult resulted in the construction of more than 300 sanctuaries in many cities of the Greco-Roman world, the most famous being that of Epidauros, which was located in a valley surrounded by pine-covered hills where snakes, sacred animals, lived, becoming the center of the cult of Aesculapius, and from this city, it spread throughout the ancient world.

The cult of Aesculapius, in the context of Greek priestly medicine, is based on "incubation", that is, on the suggestion produced during sleep, although healing rites and therapeutic practices were incorporated which undoubtedly had a rational origin, this was the beginning of medicine itself. Incubation was a therapeutic technique that was carried out in the following way, the patient enters a room in which he will reach deep sleep and finally dream of Asclepios and wake up healthy.

Among the healing rites practiced during the stay in Asclepios, it was common for the priesthood to appear during the night in the sacred interior of the temple, where a large number of patients were in darkness and were touched in the sick part of the body with a wand or a snake (the wand is an attribute of Aesculapius and the snake is the god of healing (two snakes) and later the medical symbol because of its character of a mysterious and infernal deity).

The therapeutic practices practiced at Asclepius included both medical activities and surgical interventions (this is somewhat similar to modern medicine), in addition to requiring the observance of strict rules that were prescribed by doctors and priests, so that the patient's daily activities were planned, alternating exercise with rest, active and passive occupation of the mind, special diets, sleep cures, the use of medicinal waters, attendance at the theatre and participation in temple ceremonies. It was traditional among the patients treated and healed at Asclepius to offer ex-votos consisting of reproductions of the organs treated and the donation of stelae in which the healings were recorded. These two objects helped us to understand what was happening in these temples.

The symbol and meaning of the caduceus

To explore the symbolism underlying the caduceus as an attribute of Aesculapius, it is necessary at this point to retrieve a set of elements that broaden and give meaning to the horizon of understanding about the origin of the medical caduceus.

caduceus symbol

1. The first point concerns the linguistic origin of the name Asclepius, which probably derives from the Greek words used to designate the mole, who was considered a cursed animal of the gods and condemned by them to a dark existence in the underworld, deprived of light and to which magical healing powers were attributed.

2. The second point lies in the legend of Aesculapius himself, which, independently of the version presented by Pindar or Ovid, consistently shows Apollo, Coronis, Ischis, Chiron, Artemis, a raven and finally Zeus, which gives symbolic coherence to the legend. It is therefore necessary to review each of these actors who help to structure the plot of the mythical legend of Aesculapius.

Zeus (not the son of Zeus) is the main god of Mount Olympus. Apollo, the god of light, was the physician of the gods of Olympus, from whom he received the name of Alexikakos (he who keeps disease at bay) and his arrows carry plague or epidemics away, but he can also prevent or avoid them. Together with his sister Artemis, he teaches medicine to the centaur Chiron (the future teacher of Aasclepios). Coronis, a mortal woman, was the daughter of the king of the Lapites in Thessaly. Chiron, half horse, half-god, was the son of Saturn, versed in ancient legends, music, and surgery. He was the tutor of Hercules, Achilles, and Aesculapius. 12 It was said of him that he was not only a skillful hunter and a friend of music, but that he also knew the properties of medicinal herbs, that he used them and that he knew how to transmit his knowledge to his disciples. Chiron could also work with the surgeon's knife and perform miraculous healings, pronouncing enchanting formulas during the operations.

Mount of Olympus

3. The third element focuses on two fundamental points: the iconographic representation of Aesculapius attributes and his cult in Asclepius. In both cases, the presence of the traveler's staff and the serpent stand out.

Therefore... Based on these three elements, there are different elements in the image of Aesculapius that converge to understand the caduceus as the symbol that represents the synthesis of ideas and practices, impressions and rites, invoked and desired, feared or hated, marvelous, strange and inexplicable events, always associated with the most significant events of human life, among which health and illness stand out, and which is expressed in the conjunction of the staff and the serpent as a symbol that unites and merges the meaning of both into one.

Medecine symbol caduceus


Thus, the traveler's staff, the crook, which can be understood as the "magic wand" used to concentrate supernatural forces to chase away enemies, is probably of a later appearance than the symbolism of the serpent; but as the traveler's staff, it is likely to germinate new leaves, signifying the possibility of new or renewed life.

On the other hand, at the origins of Greek civilization, the cult of the serpent (Egyptian God) was unknown, probably imported from the Egyptians (Ancient Egypt) or Assyria, without the Greeks knowing the symbolism that these peoples gave it. The snake was the center of the religious and therapeutic rite that was practiced in the temples dedicated to Aesculapius. It is a fact that the serpent is the universal symbol of the supernatural in prehistory and the field of Greek mythology; it symbolizes divination, prudence, regeneration, and healing, which is why it has represented in the history of humanity the magical powers of healing and curing that have been attributed to all medical deities.

Egyptian gods

All right, so...

The image of Aesculapius has been immersed in legend and myth, which has led to the existence of authors who attribute a real existence to him as well as those who deny it. It is a mixture of reality and myths, a concept found in many ancient mythologies (Could it be a way to explain dreams?).

Whether Aesculapius existed or whether he was a mere fiction, mythology took his figure, made him a god, and then attributed his origin to the lineage of gods (giving birth to many doctors like Hippocrates). The unfortunate Aesculapius, the newborn (unborn child) baby born by Caesarean section was considered the god of medicine and was revered throughout Greece, being the son of light, reason, life, but he is also a tectonic deity, coming from the earth, from the underworld, in short from death, placing the art of medicine between life and death, Aesculapius being the archetype of healing. A balance in the hands of the medical profession. The caduceus can be considered as the symbol of alchemy at the time, of rebirth, spirituality, mysticism, ouroboros, medical personification,...

death life balance caduceus

In this context, the caduceus seems to incorporate into the medical divinities the possibility of dialectical mediation between two opposites: In summary, the caduceus is consistent with the representation of a world system that has dominated the practice of medicine since its inception, and although in contemporary medicine magical healing has been replaced by a rational approach that promotes healthy living and focuses the patient's expectations on respecting scientific and technological advances in medicine, the complexity of healing within the healing archetype is associated with the unconscious identification of the physician with the power to use and manipulate lifestyles to cope with the patient's illness. Currently, we can see this caduceus in many institutions, such as professional medical associations, army medical department, American medical association,... Many peoples had traces very similar to the Greeks like the Sumerians, the Hindus, or the Babylonians.

The caduceus is waiting for you at The Vipers House.

The caduceus today is a common symbol that we can find in many places in our daily lives. Wearing it will give you the style of someone who cares about others. Become like Asclepios and give without delay in return. Here is the Caduceus collection where you can find necklaces, sweets, or tattoos.

caduceus collection


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