World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 217–221 | Cite as

The Rod and the Serpent: History’s Ultimate Healing Symbol

  • Stavros A. Antoniou
  • George A. Antoniou
  • Robert Learney
  • Frank A. Granderath
  • Athanasios I. Antoniou


The snake has served as a medical emblem for more than 2400 years, since its association with the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing, Asclepius, in the 4th century BC. Its symbolic background can be traced further back to the worship of gods of earth’s blossom in ancient Egypt and earth-related deities of the archaic period of Greek antiquity. It is featured entwined around a staff of knowledge and wisdom in most anaglyphs depicting Asclepius. The snake was impressed in the Old and the New Testament as well as in the Christian tradition as a symbol of sin, rejuvenation, death, resurrection, asthenia, and therapy. It is postulated that the double-snake motif was reintroduced by Renaissance philosophers as a medical emblem due to the symbolic connections of Hermes with deliverance and redemption. However, its use during the last two centuries seems to lack substantial historical background. The historical, mythological, and traditional retrospection of the snake’s symbolism validates its appropriateness in the health-care field.


Christian Tradition Sacred Tree Archaic Period Renaissance Period Army Medical Corps 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors highly appreciate the kind release of Figs. 1 and 2 by the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Crete, the Museum of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, Epidaurus, and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism. We especially thank the associate director of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Archaeologist Ms. Maria Englezou.


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Copyright information

© Société Internationale de Chirurgie 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stavros A. Antoniou
    • 1
  • George A. Antoniou
    • 2
  • Robert Learney
    • 2
  • Frank A. Granderath
    • 1
  • Athanasios I. Antoniou
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of General and Visceral SurgeryHospital “Maria v. d. Aposteln” NeuwerkMönchengladbachGermany
  2. 2.Regional Vascular UnitSt. Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of History and EthnologyDemocritus University of ThraceAlexandroupolisGreece
  4. 4.Keratea AttikisGreece

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