Template:Caduceus confusion summary

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The U.S. Army Medical Corps Branch Plaque. In 1902 the caduceus was added to the uniforms of Army medical officers.

It is relatively common, especially in the United States, to find the caduceus, with its two snakes and wings, used as a symbol of medicine instead of the correct Rod of Asclepius, with only a single snake. This usage is erroneous, popularised largely as a result of the adoption of the caduceus as its insignia by the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1902 at the insistence of a single officer (though there are conflicting claims as to whether this was Capt. Frederick P. Reynolds or Col. John R. van Hoff).[1][2]

The rod of Asclepius is the dominant symbol for professional healthcare associations in the United States. One survey found that 62% of professional healthcare associations used the rod of Asclepius as their symbol.[3] The same survey found that 76% of commercial healthcare organizations used the Caduceus symbol. The author of the study suggests the difference exists because professional associations are more likely to have a real understanding of the two symbols, whereas commercial organizations are more likely to be concerned with the visual impact a symbol will have in selling their products.

The initial errors leading to its adoption and the continuing confusion it generates are well known to medical historians. The long-standing and abundantly attested historical associations of the caduceus with commerce are considered by many to be inappropriate in a symbol used by those engaged in the healing arts.[2] This has occasioned significant criticism of the use of the caduceus in a medical context.

As god of the high-road and the market-place Hermes was perhaps above all else the patron of commerce and the fat purse: as a corollary, he was the special protector of the traveling salesman. As spokesman for the gods, he not only brought peace on earth (occasionally even the peace of death), but his silver-tongued eloquence could always make the worse appear the better cause.[4] From this latter point of view, would not his symbol be suitable for certain Congressmen, all medical quacks, book agents and purveyors of vacuum cleaners, rather than for the straight-thinking, straight-speaking therapeutist? As conductor of the dead to their subterranean abode, his emblem would seem more appropriate on a hearse than on a physician's car.

—Stuart L. Tyson, "The Caduceus", in The Scientific Monthly[5]

  1. ^ F.H. Garrison, "The Use of the Caduceus in the Insignia of the Army Medical Officer", in Bull. Med. Lib. Assoc. IX (1919-20), 13-16
  2. ^ a b Engle, Bernice (Dec 1929). "The Use of Mercury's Caduceus as a Medical Emblem"". The Classical Journal 25 (1): 205. 
  3. ^ Friedlander, Walter J (1992). The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus symbol in medicine. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28023-1. 
  4. ^ An allusion to John Milton's description of Belial in Paradise Lost II.113-114.
  5. ^ Tyson, Stuart L (1932). "The Caduceus". Scientific Monthly 34 (6): 495.