November 10, 1993

The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine

Author Affiliations

Baylor College of Medicine Houston, Tex


by Walter J. Friedlander (Contributions in Medical Studies, No. 35), 181 pp, $45, ISBN 0-313-28023-1, New York, NY, Greenwood Press, 1992.

JAMA. 1993;270(18):2229-2230. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510180099044

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This is the most thorough discussion of the relationship between the caduceus and medicine that has been written. Friedlander, a Professor Emeritus of Medical Humanities at the University of Nebraska, provides an in-depth analysis of how the caduceus, the wand of the Greek god Hermes (the Roman Mercury), has come to be inappropriately used by some as the symbol of medicine.

The Golden Wand of Medicine is an excellent historical analysis with good documentation of the facts and sources, but it is relatively dull reading. Take, for example, the two chapters about Hermes. The author describes in detail the various Greek Hermes—the pre-Homeric Hermes, the archaic Hermes, and the traditional Hermes—then devotes another chapter to the Egyptian Hermes—Hermes-Thoth, Hermes Trismegistus, and Pseudo Hermes Trismegistus—more than you ever wanted to know about Hermes.

The evolution of the caduceus is traced from its first appearance in the seventh century BCE to its