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July 3, 1937

Serpents in Symbolism, Art and Medicine: The Babylonian Caduceus and Aesculapius Club

JAMA. 1937;109(1):75. doi:10.1001/jama.1937.02780270077036

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The serpent symbol goes back in history to the earliest times. The serpent as a medical sign has been considered variously as the symbol of wisdom, rejuvenation, longevity and convalescence. The caduceus with the two twined serpents began in Babylonia. In Rome it was used as a symbol for secret societies and became the emblem of commerce when it was carved on the prow of the ship in trade. The two sex-double snakes conveyed, of course, sexual significance. From the Babylonian days onward, the rod and serpent had a most interesting history with various mythical relationships. These the author describes accurately. The single snake on the rod goes back to serpent worship, which preceded monotheistic religion. The special symbol of healing is the rod and serpent of Aesculapius. While Aesculapius was practicing healing and leaning on a rod, a serpent came and twined itself about his staff. Another serpent then

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