January 6, 2014

Snake Charming

I received a great book for Christmas called The Lizard King (see review below). Not about Jim Morrison this time, but about the seedy underbelly of the reptile smuggling business in the 1970s. The book mentioned the historical origin of the logo of the snake wrapped around a staff, which we all recognize in medical arenas, but seldom ask where this came from. So I thought I’d share; I certainly stared at it plenty of times on my son’s Medical Alert bracelet when he was a child.

I used to think it was from the Greek God Mercury’s staff, but I was wrong!

So from Wikepedia :

In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius, sometimes also spelled Asklepios or Aesculapius, also known as the asklepian, is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. The symbol has continued to be used in modern times, where it is associated with medicine and health care, yet frequently confused with the staff of the god Hermes, the caduceus. Theories have been proposed about the Greek origin of the symbol and its implications.

In honor of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and these snakes – the Aesculapian snakes –
crawled around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. These snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius throughout the classical world. From about 300 BC onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills.

The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and
by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …”

But why a snake? The significance of the serpent has several interpretations:

1. the shedding of skin and renewal is emphasized as symbolizing rejuvenation
2. the serpent is a symbol that unites and expresses the dual nature of the work of the physician, who deals with life
and death, sickness and health.
3. The use of drugs can help or harm, as reflected in the meaning of the term pharmakon, which meant “drug”, “medicine” and “poison” in ancient Greek. Products derived from snakes had medicinal properties, and in ancient Greece, at least some were aware that snake venom that might be fatal if it entered the bloodstream could often be imbibed. Snake venom appears to have been ‘prescribed’ in some cases as a form of therapy.
Really fascinating; something new to know as you start your new year! And if you want a great read, see this…
Great Book I Just Read
The Lizard King by Bryan Christy
A fascinating story about the illegal smuggling of endangered reptiles into the US in the 1970s. This reads like a crime thriller, and there are indeed many parallels to the drug trade, including mafia, “mules” and the feds. How one many mostly built up an incredible multi-million dollar business smuggling reptiles into the US, while being tracked for years by one man in particular by the government, in an attempt to set up a sting. With its surprise and poignant ending, this would make for a great movie!
Four/five stars.
HemaBlog Archives