[Snake as a symbol in medicine and pharmacy - a historical study]

Yakushigaku Zasshi. 2000;35(1):25-40.
[Article in Japanese]


The snake and snake venoms have stimulated the mind and imagination of humankind since the beginning of records about society. No animal has been more worshipped yet more cast out, more loved yet more despised than the snake. The essence of the fascination with fear of the snake lies within the creature's venom. Snakes have been used for worship, magic potions and, medicine, and they have been the symbol of love, health, disease, medicine, pharmacy, immortality, death and even wisdom. In the Sumer civilization (B.C. 2350-2150), designs with 2 snakes appeared. In Greek mythology (B.C. 2000-400), statues of Asclepius (God of Medicine), with "Caduceus" (made of two snakes and a staff), and his daughter Hygeia (God of Health), holding a snake and bowl, were created as symbols for medicine and health, respectively. A kind of Caduceus (1 snake and 1 staff) has been used as a symbol by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a snake and bowl as a symbol of pharmacies in Europe. Snakes have also been worshipped by old Indian peoples involved in Hinduism since 6-4th century B.C. In ancient Egypt, snake designs were used in hieroglyphs. In China, dried bodies of about 30 species of snakes are still using as Chinese medicines. In Japan, a painting of the symbol of "Genbu" (snake with tortoise) was found recently on the north wall of the Takamatsuzuka ancient tomb (7-8th century A.D.), however it is a symbol of a compass direction, and has probably less relation to medicine and pharmacy.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • History of Pharmacy*
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Early Modern 1451-1600
  • History, Medieval
  • History, Modern 1601-
  • Medicine*
  • Snakes*
  • Symbolism*