In Greek mythology, the Rod of *Asclepius*… is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine.
The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Healer and by *Asclepius* and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …”
Rod of Asclepius
In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius (Greek: Ράβδος του Ασκληπιού, Rábdos tou Asklipioú, sometimes also spelled Asklepios), also known as the Staff of Aesculapius and 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.
The Rod of Asclepius takes its name from the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicinal arts in Greek mythology. Asclepius’ attributes, the snake and the staff, sometimes depicted separately in antiquity, are combined in this symbol.
The most famous temple of Asclepius was at Epidaurus in north-eastern Peloponnese. Another famous healing temple (or asclepeion) was located on the island of Kos, where Hippocrates, the legendary “father of medicine”, may have begun his career. Other asclepieia were situated in Trikala, Gortys (Arcadia), and Pergamum in Asia.
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 BCE onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the god (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary – the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation. Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.
The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Healer and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …” [Farnell, Chapter 10, “The Cult of Asklepios” (pp. 234–279)]
The serpent and the staff appear to have been separate symbols that were combined at some point in the development of the Asclepian cult.