As an Army Medic and now a workplace First Aider I see the asp used as a logo almost everywhere.

Why was it chosen as the animal of choice for the medicinal profession and is there any animal or natural alternatives in use around the world?

2 Answers 2


The original association between the snake and medicine is from the Greek god of healing, Asclepius. I put an image of the "Rod of Asclepius" below. However, the Rod of Asclepius became confused with the symbol of another Greek god, the Caduceus of Hermes (also pictured below). The Caduceus has been used as the symbol of medicine in the U.S. since the late 19th century due to these (mis)associations.

What does a snake have to do with healing? There is lots of conjecture, including the fact that snake venom was sometimes used as a drug. More from Wikipedia:

The serpent and the staff appear to have been separate symbols that were combined at some point in the development of the Asclepian cult. The significance of the serpent has been interpreted in many ways; sometimes the shedding of skin and renewal is emphasized as symbolizing rejuvenation, while other assessments center on the serpent as a symbol that unites and expresses the dual nature of the work of the physician, who deals with life and death, sickness and health.

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    FWIW, many native Americans (clearly not influenced by the ancient Greeks) also associated poisonous snakes with healing. Some west Africans too, I believe.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 13, 2015 at 12:51

I would assume it has a biblical origin. In Numbers chapter 21 a copper snake was placed on a banner for all the Israelites who were bitten by snakes to look at so they wouldn't die. In fact most snakes you see on medical pictures have it wrapped around a pole.

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    There may be a common origin for the association mentioned by two sheds, but there is no derivation. Jan 27, 2015 at 4:43
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    being that its reference in the bible at about 1500 bc, and then the greeks where using probably around 1200 bc as asclepious was said to have died around 1200 bc, that may give us a hint to an older common source, maybe from egypt or palistine area. And biblical writers could also have added this later after the greek symbols became more pronounced in isreal.
    – Himarm
    Jan 28, 2015 at 0:31
  • @Himram as an orthodox Jew I'm going with the common source idea:) In fact we actually date the giving of the Torah to 1312 bc so it's even closer. There have been many who have pointed to other ideas in the bible which orthodox Jews who take archeological bible criticism seriously believe were especially used by God so as to combat those ideas. Not sure if you care about all this but i find this fascinating. I'd never heard of asclepious before.
    – user6591
    Jan 28, 2015 at 1:11
  • Just to clarify, I had posted my answer before two sheds, this was not an attempt to predate him mythology wise. It was simply my understanding of a Christian country with a symbol which to me seemed straight out of the bible.
    – user6591
    Jan 28, 2015 at 1:13
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    I thought this was interesting, and I do wonder whether there's a common origin somewhere between the two.
    – two sheds
    Jan 28, 2015 at 1:46

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