Monday, December 8, 2014

The Caduceus-intertwined serpents

This is a school project, may not be directly related to snakes.

    Do you ever notice when looking at something medicine-related that you often see two snakes intertwined on a pole, which sometimes has wings? You might wonder why this strange symbol is associated with medicine. And you might have never guessed that it has mythological origins.

    Hermes, the Ancient Greek messenger god, once stole some cattle from Apollo, the god of music. To make up for it, Hermes gave Apollo a lyre made from a tortoise shell and Apollo gave Hermes the Caduceus, a staff with two intertwined snakes representing their friendship. This staff could restore the sick to health and bring the dead back to life. Because snakes shed their skin periodically, they symbolized healing and renewal. The intertwined snakes also represent balance for disease prevention. According to legend, the staff was used to separate two snakes who were locked in eternal combat. When they wrapped around the stick (maybe they were constrictors and the staff was mouse-scented) they started looking at each other peacefully rather than fighting. As a result, the staff and its serpents became a symbol of peace as well. The staff is also used for commerce in a form with the snakes removed as Hermes was also the god of commerce and traders. The Staff of Asclepius, Hermes' son, is like the Caduceus, but it has no wings and only a single serpent which, through the shedding of its skin, represents revival and youth.

    Would a Caduceus, as in the two intertwined serpents, ever happen in real life? Probably not. Most snakes are solitary animals and wouldn't coil around a stick that wasn't a horizontal tree branch, let alone intertwine with each other. The only thing that might come close to a Caduceus would be the connection between breeding snakes. If somebody were to try to get their captive snakes into an intertwined position, they would probably have to use significant posing. Don't try that at home!

Caduceus image, from

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