[Skip to Content]
Access to paid content on this site is currently suspended due to excessive activity being detected from your IP address Please contact the publisher to request reinstatement.
[Skip to Content Landing]
October 6, 1989

Hermes? Apollo? Ningishzida? Dracunculus?... Dracunculus??

Author Affiliations

Northwestern University Chicago, Ill

Northwestern University Chicago, Ill

JAMA. 1989;262(13):1771. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430130045015

To the Editor.—  The controversy that rages in The Journal over one snake or two1 is a simple matter to settle. Do we as physicians wish to be represented by the staff of Asklēpios, for whatever aesthetic or nostalgic reasons, or do we wish to be associated with the oldest symbol of the healing profession? Serpents, to be sure, have been linked to fertility cults for many millennia.2,3 With these we need not concern ourselves. Our task is to identify the first serpent-and-staff motif unequivocally associated with healing and accept it as our emblem.History takes us back to Sumer, cultural predecessor of Assyria and Babylonia. Here, for the first time, we find on a libation vase to the god Ningishzida a deity represented by two serpents entwined around a staff.4 This deity, the personal god of Gudea, ruler of Lagash in southern Mesopotamia around 2150 BC,