Sunday, March 18, 2012
Caduceus, Warp and Weave
The Caduceus is a staff with a single entwined serpent that is an insignia representing the healing professions, particularly the medical profession, world wide. It has traditionally been regarded as of Greek origin dating from the Hippocratic Corpus, 460 to 337 BCE, or the healing and religious tradition of the Greek god Asklepios, beginning from the same era! We read however in the exilic text, Numbers, 21, 5 to 9, probably written from 586 to 538 BCE, that Moses, on instructions from beyond, created what was clearly the Caduceus, a staff with a bronze serpent, in order to prevent the frequent deaths from vipers in the wilderness. This of course is evidence of a creation, described in writing, more than 100 years before Hippocrates and the Asklepian priests, of an oral tradition from an even earlier era. Still, it is not of general knowledge that the Caduceus is a figure created from the warp and weave of what went for science and faith at the time of Moses. Whether Greek or Jew, whether mystic or pragmatic, the cloth one wears as a physician is created by the Weaver. Hippocrates the scientist, Asklepios the mystical god, and the exiled Hebrews codifying the oral tradition, spoken to, and repeated by, a bronze age people, shows us that modern medicine still has its roots in the warp and weave of timelessness. The haze of technology alone may seduce the unwary; the hubris of the antiscientist may founder, but the cloth of the Weaver will continue to stand.