The Aesculpian Staff (Caduces)

[2-color of staff with entwined snake]
The Doctor's Emblem
Ever since Asklepios' time, the medical profession has used a staff entwined by a snake as its special symbol. This is commonly called the Aesculpaian staff, after the god's Latin name. Modern scholars, however, doubt that the symbol originated in Greece. It probably derived from the Jews' imprisonment in Egypt and ther desert wanderings.

People in that region suffered from a type of worm known as Dracunculus medinensis. (These worms grow under the skin, particularly in the lower extremities. Whey they push out through the skin, blisters and infected sores often arise. Their toxins can also produce general reactions such as hives, nausea, vomiting and fever.) But a way was found to get rid of the worms, which could be up to a half a metre long. They were carefully rolled up on a little peg. This may be why the Jews considered the snake a sign of victory. The brazen serpent which God commanded Moses to make (Numbers 21 ) might have been a Dracunculus worm!

excerpted from The Illustrated History of Surgery, by Knut Hæger

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Last updated by 1995 April 21