Coming up with the idea of using a caduceus as the symbol for the argument clinic didn’t take all that much imagination. Everybody knows* that the symbol for all things medical is the well-known winged staff with the two serpents twined around it:
But we wanted something a little different, so we chose the wingless staff topped by a pair of snakes that appears in so many ancient representations of Hermes—this vase painting, for example.
The caduceus—in Greek, the kerykeion—was originally just the staff of the herald (the kerux). It came to be associated with Hermes because as the messenger of the gods he was their herald as well. The duties of the kerux were to summon the assembly, to separate combatants if need be, and to carry messages to and fro between enemies. These might be said to be the hermeneutical duties par excellence, and therefore the herald’s wand—the kerykeion—is a fitting device for anyone who would dare to examine arguments. Such a one, after all, ventures to call together and to address all parties interested in any particular piece of reasoning, directing them, if need be, to neutral corners until a mutually agreeable understanding can be reached, and then to read and pronounce upon the power of the reasoning itself, or in other words to deliver the fateful message concerning its weakness or its strength. A touchy business, this. One should, therefore, remember that the persons of heralds are inviolable. After all, they are really the messengers of Zeus and, as such, are properly under his protection.
*This is one of those cases in which what “everybody knows” is in fact false. Things are in fact much more complicated than this. The following symbols are among the ones in current use. In addition to the familiar caduceus:
there is the version used in dentistry:
and the version used in chiropractic:
And in addition to those, there are the following uses of the staff of Asclepius—the staff with a single snake coiled round it. First, it appears on the star of life, the emergency medical care symbol:
second, it serves as the symbol of the American Medical Association,
and finally, it appears in the symbol used in veterinary medicine: