The Rod of Asclepius (or Staff of Asclepius) is an ancient Greek symbol that has become an internationally recognized symbol of medicine. It depicts a serpent entwined around a staff that is traditionally a knotty tree limb. The symbol is associated with the Greek demigod, Asclepius who was renowned for his unsurpassed medical prowess and healing powers. According to myths, he got his medical knowledge through the whispering of snakes that have the ability to periodically shedding their skin and emerging bigger, healthier and shinier than before.
The Rod of Asclepius is a befitting representation of the physician’s art of healing because of its combination of the staff, which is symbolic of authority and the snake, which denotes rebirth, fertility, revitalization, and rejuvenation. Moreover, snake venom has been found to be fatally poisonous and, at the same time, have medicinal properties. Therefore, the serpent is also seen as symbolic of the dual nature of a physician’s work that involved sickness & health, life & death. It even signifies the dual powers of medicine – the dosage and the situation determine if it will heal or harm. The symbol was displayed at the Temples of Asclepius that became popular healing centers of the Greco-Roman world. Later on, it came to be adopted by doctors all over the world.
Some scholars assert that the Rod of Asclepius actually represents a parasitic worm coiled around a stick. In the ancient times, people used to be commonly infected by parasitic worms like the guinea worm. The physicians treated them by piercing the skin and extracting the worms underneath by wrapping them on a rod or stick. The physicians are believed to have advertised this service by putting up the sign of a worm on a stick.
Whatever the origin of the Rod of Asclepius may have been, it remains a dominant global symbol of healthcare, healing, and medicine.
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