The Caduceus is a very old symbol with a complex history, both in terms of shape and of interpretations and meanings. In the classical ancient times, as the etymology itself highlights (from Latin 'caduceum' alteration from Greek 'kerukeion'), the Caduceus is the emblem of heralds, ambassadors and envoys in general : their position and their role were generally considered holy and untouchable. This stick is directly associated with Hermes, the messenger of gods, but it actually dates back to well before the Greek culture. In fact already at the beginning of the XX century, the American archaeologist Arthur Frothingham speculated that maybe the iconography of the Caduceus derived from the Middle East since it was already present in the Sumerian civilisation, linked to the God of fertility Ningazzida, and it was also represented on some Babylonian seals and artworks. Furthermore, the depiction of the two twisted snakes is found also in Ancient Egypt (3900-2950 B.C.). The traditional myth refers that Hermes divided two snakes using his rod after seeing them fighting and in the end they remained coiled around the rod itself. The fight can be interpreted as the representation of chaos, while the two snakes placed in symmetrical positions is likely to stand for the achievement of a sort of equilibrium. The caduceus can also be a symbol of fertility and in this case the stick represents an erect penis. According to Homer, Hermes is able to “enchant men and to awake the ones who sleep” thanks to his magic wand ( Iliad, XXIV, 343-344). In the caduceus his magic wand is represented by the central stick while the two snakes may represent the ability of Hermes to cross the border between the darkness ( death) and the light ( life). Because of this ability, he can guide men to the afterlife and in some cases he can even guide human beings from the darkness to the light. Hermes is therefore usually linked to death and afterlife. The popularity of this symbol in Western art is indisputable. Represented in many iconographic variants, the caduceus is abundantly present in the funereal symbology of the last two centuries. It is often composed of a stick, the wings, a small sphere, the snakes and a hat: the stick represents power, the two serpents prudence, the wings diligence, and the headgear thought. These interpretations make it the symbol of good behaviour. In addition to this, the caduceus is often associated with the cornucopia as it is used in Western art as an emblem of commerce and success in mercantile and productive activities. It can also be present in iconographies and personifications linked to transport. Lastly, the caduceus can also be associated with the god Aesculapius and medical activities. In this case, however, the rod presents a single snake, which often symbolises the healing arts.
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Traduzione di Sophia Derweduwen, Teresa Ferraresi e Matteo Pierantoni; Liceo ginnasio Luigi Galvani Bologna, anno 2017-2018. Supervisione prof.ssa Annamaria Marconi.