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Examining the Caduceus: The Symbol of Greed and Profit in Modern Medicine

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 by: Aaron Nye
Tags: modern medicine, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) All symbols originate with an idea. They are a system of invoking a thought in the viewer of the symbol. The glyphs that make up the words you are reading are symbols which loosely equate to sounds made in speech. The giant golden M that is so familiar at nearly every busy intersection in the United States is also a symbol, easily recognized and familiar. Even the symbol that shows which restroom should be used by which person is understood to mean what it represents.

Most people never stop to consider the origins of symbols, but due to familiarity come to understand what they mean.

The symbol used to represent medicine is no exception. The vast majority of us have seen the winged staff encircled by two snakes. While many of us don't know what it is called, we still associate it with hospitals and medicine.

The name of this symbol is the caduceus (ca-DOO-see-us). The caduceus, like most of the classical symbols with which we are familiar, comes from Greek and Roman mythology. It is supposed to be the staff of the miraculous healer and demi-god, Aesculapius also spelled Esculapius (Es-qu-LA-pi-us). The problem with this assumption is that there is another, more familiar, god from this pantheon who also carried a staff encircled by serpents.

While not a mythology lesson, a dose of mythology will be necessary to understand the ultimate point of this article.

Esculapius was a fairly important figure in the Greek pantheon. He was the son of Apollo and Coronis, and was taught healing by Chiron, the centaur, when he was young. He got so good at healing, he was able to restore life to the dead. His symbol was and remains a single snake, entwined around a eucalyptus branch. Seems fitting that his symbol should become that of the medical profession, doesn't it? Read on...

Mercury, as many are aware, is the messenger god of the Olympians. Like most Olympic gods, however, he carried several attributes. In addition to delivering messages, he was also associated with trickery, greed, wealth and on occasion, death. He was also known as the protector of thieves. His staff became one of his symbols. Mercury, fleet of foot, and swift, is far more commonly known by the winged foot than the winged staff encircled by two vipers.

The vipers are a symbol of trickery, deceit, stealth and death. This in contrast to common grass (or non-venomous) snakes, which were the symbol of everything from throwing off the past to live again (as a snake shedding its skin), to wisdom, health and vitality.

This begs the question, why would the modern medical community use the symbol that means deceit, trickery, greed and death instead of the one that means healing and wisdom?

Even the names of the gods of the Greeks and Romans have meaning today. The name of Mercury is where we get the words "mercenary," "mercantile" and "mercurial."

Mercenary, while most often associated with soldiers for hire, simply means, for sale to the highest bidder, and implies an evil nature. Mercantile deals with trade for profit. While not necessarily evil, the connotation is profit over service. Mercurial, while not popularly used these days, means unstable or fickle.

It would be difficult to believe that the controlling interests in "Merck" are not aware of the origins of the name they chose. Throwing a "k" on the end of a word does little to change its meaning.

Knowledge of the symbols, while not answering any questions about the medical establishment, certainly begs a few. Are they aware of their faux pas? Does the caduceus expose the industry's true intentions, or are they simply living up to the personality represented by the symbol they've adopted?

One thing is certain. Removing the shroud of mystery from a symbol stands to make one wonder what else he may not understand about familiar symbols and their origins. Failure to understand symbols could lead to an embarrassing situation when using a restroom. It could also lead to a life threatening situation when seeking health care.

About the author

Aaron Nye is a freelance writer who's work revolves around intelligent research and "connecting the dots." He is a tireless supporter and volunteer for the Ron Paul campaign. He is an experienced computer programmer with a passion for health and holistic medicine. He has been a vegetarian since a member of his family was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999. He speaks Vietnamese and Gaelic, and is working to learn the ancient language of Akkadian.

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