There are many symbols and images out there that we recognize who they are and the meaning. When we see an image of an apple with a bite taken from it, we recognize it as the logo for Apple/Mac computers. However, when we see the snakes around a rod, we recognize that as a logo for the EMT and anything medical. However, what is the story behind the symbol, and why? And did you know there are two versions out there?
The actual symbol is called The Rod of Asclepius. The symbol takes its name from Asclepius, a Greek god who was associated with healing and the medical arts to his followers. In ancient Greece, the sick and injured slept on temple grounds where a group of non-venomous snakes slithered around. The snakes were believed to be remedial and their skin-shedding was a symbol of rebirth and renewal. The staff was viewed as a walking stick that’s associated with physicians back in the day.
However, to this day, Americans confused associating the caduceus symbol, with two snakes and wings, as the symbol of medicine instead of the Rod of Asclepius. The caduceus symbol actually represents the Greek god Hermes, who was a patron of commerce, traders, thieves, liars, and gamblers; a bit different from the Rod of Asclepius. The United States mistakenly used the caduceus symbol for medicine as a mistake in the late 19th and early 20th century. Walter J. Friedland, author of “The Golden Wand of Medicine”, conducted a survey in the early 1990’s and found that majority of the professional medical associates display the Rod of Asclepius while commercial medical associations were most likely to use the caduceus. Friedland’s theory is that professional organizations understand the real meaning behind the symbol while the commercial organization uses the false symbol as a concern on how well a certain symbol will be recognized by the general public.
As you can see one symbol can be confused as another and can represent the symbol for health and medicine. When you see the rod with the single snake wrapped around it, think of the Greek god Asclepius who was called upon to heal the sick and elderly with his snakes. And you also know now that the symbol with wings and two snakes are a common misinterpretation for the medical symbol.