The caduceus (from the Latin cādūceus, itself derived from the ancient Greek κηρύκειον, kērū́keion, "messenger's staff") is one of the attributes of the god Hermes in Greek mythology, depicted as a laurel or olive wand topped by two wings and surrounded by two intertwined serpents. The caduceus is used to heal snake bites and that is why it is adorned with it.
The caduceus is often mistakenly confused with another emblem of the medical profession, the staff of Asclepius or the staff of Aesculapius, with the cup of Hygie of the pharmacists or other medical or paramedical symbols derived from them.
The caduceus is one of the attributes of the god Hermes in Greek mythology; it is represented as a laurel or olive wand topped by two wings and surrounded by two intertwined snakes.
The caduceus is used to heal snake bites, which is why it is adorned with them. It is sometimes represented with a pair of wings. Originally, it was only a stick decorated with ribbons that floated in the wind, replaced over time by the famous snakes.
In addition to Hermes, the goddess Iris was also represented with a caduceus, because she was the messenger of Hera, the female counterpart of Hermes, messenger of Zeus.
According to the Homeric hymn dedicated to her, it was Apollo who gave Hermes his emblematic staff. Indeed, while he was still a child, the latter stole part of his herd and hid in a cave to escape the wrath of the Olympian. The god of beauty and arts then went in search of him to punish him for this theft.
But when he found Hermes, the latter began to play the lyre he had invented. Apollo was so charmed that his anger was immediately appeased. An agreement took place between the two deities: Apollo spared Hermes in exchange for the melodious instrument. He was so delighted that he gave the god of crossroads the caduceus.
According to another version, after Hermes had given his lyre to Apollo, he invented the Pan flute; in exchange for the instrument, Apollo offered him the caduceus and taught him to predict the future with stones.
This caduceus is the scepter carried by the heralds, which makes their person inviolable. Originally, it is simply made of olive tree, still decorated with its branches. Later on, the branches are wrapped around the staff to represent snakes.
For Felice Vinci and Arduino Maiuri, the significance of the caduceus traditionally attributed to Hermes is explained by the way the Greek god produced fire - "he took a beautiful branch of laurel and made a pomegranate out of it, / holding it in his hands, and the hot smoke rose" (Hymn. Herm. 108-109).
The caduceus would originally be the wooden branch, used by many archaic cultures, which, if turned back and forth in a hole in a wooden table, lights a flame by rubbing.
In this interpretation, the two snakes represent the double rotation movement, clockwise and counter-clockwise, with which the stick rotates alternately between the palms of the hands until the fire is ignited (as for the "wings", they would be a living representation of the smoke that is released when the fire is lit).
For Jean Richer, the snake is a chthonic animal whose symbolism is clear: the snakes of the caduceus, erect and intertwined, signify the union of heaven and earth and the awakening of cosmic consciousness, as also appears with the bronze serpent of Moses. According to André Parrot, this symbol is of Sumerian origin.
Today it is still the symbol of trade and eloquence (it appears on the sides of the National Assembly of France).
The caduceus should not be confused with the staff of Asclepius (or Aesculapius, from its Latin name) around which only one snake is wrapped, symbolizing the snake that this ancient god carried.
Moreover, the staff of Aesculapius never bears the hermeneutic attribute of wings, but is sometimes surmounted by a mirror symbolizing prudence. The staff of Asclepius is used as a symbol of medicine in Europe , but it is the staff of Hermes that represents medicine in America.
The emblem of pharmacists, the cup of Hygie, is also mistakenly referred to as the "caduceus", which in reality represents a cup entwined with a single snake. Finally, by extension, the term "caduceus" is used to designate other emblems derived from the previous ones, such as the stick surmounted by a tuning fork for hearing aid practitioners or the snake representing the curvature of the pregnant belly for midwives.
The caduceus can be compared to the staff of Moses, presenting a bronze serpent.
According to yoga, there are two forces that intertwine around a third one and thus schematically form a caduceus along the spine, going up from the first chakra to the seventh.
Yoga even speaks of a primitive energy coiled up in the first chakra, symbolized by a snake, called kundalini, which must be brought forth in order to reach the hypothetical state called "awakening". In many yogic books, we can find the symbol of these three forces: ida, pingala and sushumna.
Esotericists of all times have interpreted this symbol in their own way. For Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov, the caduceus has an axis, two lines rising in "a movement of intertwined spirals", five bulges. It represents the occult structure of the human anatomy, as seen by Tantra Yoga and Kundalinî Yoga.
The central stick is the median channel (nâdî) sushumna, inside the spinal cord; along this channel, which is "the axis of the spine", rises the kundalinî energy;
the two snakes are the two channels Idâ, "negatively polarized and linked to the Moon", and Pingalâ, "positively polarized and linked to the Sun"; from top to bottom, for the five bulges: brain (right and left hemisphere), lungs (left lung, heart; right lung), liver and spleen (right liver, left spleen), kidney (left kidney, right kidney), genital glands (right gland, left gland).
Literature and popular culture
Jacques de Guyse, in his Chroniques de Hainaut (1390), refers to older chroniclers or authors who present the caduceus held by the golden idol representing the god Mercury in the temple of Mercury in the mythical city of Belgis as "a rod that had a somniferous virtue "
In the series Lost: The Departed, The Caduceus is one of the stations of the Dharma Project. It is, in fact, a station with medical purposes.
In the video game Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the Staff of Hermes is an artifact of the First Civilization.