II. The Origins of the Caduceus
The Caduceus is one of the symbolic figures which have tried in the highest degree the patience of scholars. Its classic appearance of a winged rod, round which two serpents are symmetrically entwined, is very far removed from its primitive form.
Greek monuments make known to us a period when it consisted of a circle, or a disk, placed on
the top of a stick, and surmounted by a crescent, making thus a kind of figure 8 open at the top, .
In a still more remote age it seems to have formed a flowered bar with three leaves, τριπέταλος, as Homer says.
Through what influence were these three leaves transformed into a disk, surmounted by an incomplete circle?
The latter form appears so often on the Phœnician monuments that we are forced to wonder, with M. Perrot, "whether the Caduceus was borrowed by the Phœnicians from Greece and its Hermes, or whether the latter did not rather
Fig. 129. Greek Caduceus.
(Overbeck. Kunstmythologie, pl. xxxvi., fig. 6.)
Fig. 130. Punic Caduceus.
(Perrot et Chipiez, vol. iii., p. 232.)
appropriate this attribute from some eastern god, his elder by many centuries." 1
MM. Perrot and Chipiez seem themselves to give a decisive answer to their question when, in a later volume, they show us the Caduceus on Hittite monuments of Asia Minor, where no one can dream of importations from Greece. 2
At Carthage the Caduceus is nearly always associated with the Sacred Cone on stelai dedicated
either to Tanit "the face of Baal," or conjointly to Baal Hamman and Tanit. If it is likely that this Cone stands for the symbol of Tanit, would it be rash to assume that the Caduceus represents either the companion of the Great Goddess of Carthage, the Phœnician god of the sun, or of the solar heat, Baal Hamman—or the usual hypostasis of Baal Hamman, his "messenger" or "angel," Malac Baal 1—or, finally, the third personage of the triad composed of Baal, Tanit, and Iol or Iolaüs, the divine solar infant, lost and found by turns like Atys and Adonis elsewhere? 2
In all these cases the Caduceus might form the symbol of a solar divinity, and what strengthens this assumption is the fact that on some Libyan stelai the two Caducei which flank the Cone are sometimes replaced by Wheels arranged in the same manner. 3
Does not the Caduceus of the Greeks seem likewise to have been an essentially solar emblem? According to the words of Homer it was a rod of gold which alternately "charms the eyes of men and calls them from their slumbers;" 4 it lures the dead to Hades, and can bring them back to the light of day; lastly, like a real magic wand, it changes all it touches into gold. I in no wise infer therefrom that Hermes was a solar god, or even a god of the sun when below the horizon. With the Greeks themselves, however, tradition makes out that the Caduceus had been given him by Apollo in return for the lyre.
Perhaps the Phœnician Caduceus passed to the hand of Hermes amongst those Greek colonists
of Cyrenaica who contributed more or less towards introducing Punic, and even Egyptian elements into the religion as into the mythology of the Hellenes. 1 Perhaps, too, the transmission was brought about on Greek soil through direct intercourse with Phœnician traders, who cannot but have diffused, with their religious and artistic products, the attributes of their own national divinities. 2
Is it possible to retrace still further the history of the Caduceus?
Numerous origins and manifold antecedents
have been attributed to it. It has alternately been considered to be an equivalent of the Thunderbolt, a form of the Sacred Tree, a contraction of the Scarab, a combination of the solar Globe and the Crescent of the moon, and so forth. All these derivations may have some foundation in fact. I once attempted to connect it with the Winged Globe, as a mere hypothesis, to be sure, but in terms perhaps too affirmative for want of having taken sufficiently into consideration the intervention of other figures in the genesis of its forms. 1 I would now be more inclined to admit that it was first of all an instrument, a weapon, a religious, or military, ensign, gradually modified by coming into contact with other figured representations, amongst which was the Winged Globe.
Bas-reliefs of Assyria exhibit military ensigns, prototypes, perhaps, of the Constantinian labarum, which consist of a large ring placed on the top of a staff, and girt with two loose bandelets (fig. 131).
Fig. 131. Assyrian Standard.
On the top of this ring—which M. Perrot has no hesitation in comparing with the circle forming the girdle of Assur in certain solar adaptations of the Winged Globe (see above, fig. 118)—place either the horns symbolical of divine power
amongst the Mesopotamians, or the Crescent, so frequently coupled with the Globe in the religious imagery of the Phœnicians, and the result will be unquestionably the image of the Punic Caduceus.
On Hittite monuments Caducei are noticed which are terminated by a Globe in relief, surmounted by a real pair of horns—a peculiarity which we again meet with on a Tyrian amphora reproduced in
Fig. 132. Hittite Caduceus.
(Perrot et Chipiez, vol. iv., fig. 353.)
Fig. 133. Variety of Greek Caduceus.
(Monuments céramogr., vol. iii., pl. 36 a.)
De Witte and Lenormant’s Monuments céramographiques.
The result is the same if we invert certain solar
Fig. 134 1
Globes of Phœnicia, which are merely an abbreviation of the Winged Globe of Egypt, as is easily seen from the two uræus snakes which encircle them,
and the tufts of feathers by which they are surmounted (fig. 134).
The very uræi here form the counterpart of the loose scrolls below the Phœnician Caduceus (fig. 135 a and b), as also underneath the Assyrian ensign (fig. 130, and which are still noticeable in the stemmata of some Greek Caducei.
We find, on a Sardinian cylinder, reproduced by MM. Perrot et Chipiez, a curious alteration of the Winged Globe, in which the ornithomorphic appendages are reduced to a reticular or pennated tail (fig. 134 b). Putting aside the horns, which have at the same time assumed the aspect of a fork, we cannot but be struck by the resemblance of this symbol to those of the Phœnician Caducei, where the Disk seems to be supported by a conical stem (fig. 135 a). In other places the horns are wanting,
Fig. 135. Caducées Libyques.
(A. W. S. Vaux. Phœnician inscript., pi. i., fig. 2, and pl. vii., fig. 20.)
notably in a Globe of Persepolis, which also rests on a triangular tail; here, however, the uræi are lowered in such a manner as to form more plainly the transition from the bandelets (fig. 136). It is worth while remarking that the Winged Globe was sometimes borne as a standard at the
end of a staff (figs. 138 and 139), in the manner of the Caduceus and the Assyrian ensign.
Fig. 136. Persepolitan Sculpture.
(Guigniaut. Op. cit., t. iv., pl. xxii., fig. 117 a.)
Does it follow that the Caduceus was necessarily a derivation of the Winged Globe? One might equally admit—and it is on this point I want to insist—that it had an independent origin, and, at a later date, carne under the influence of the Winged Globe, or, reciprocally, that certain reproductions of the Winged Globe were modified on coming into contact with it. 1
It must indeed be mentioned that M. Ph. Berger was able, with the same degree of likelihood, to connect the antecedents of the Caduceus among the Phœnicians with the ashêrah, i.e., with the stake entwined with bandelets (figs. 63, 79), and with the other analogous simulacra which we saw representing among the Syrians the goddess of the earth, or of Nature. 2
In support of this opinion, or rather of the assumption that there is a transition from the Sacred Tree surmounted by the solar Disk to the Caduceus of the Phœnicians and the Hittites, I have here brought together three figures taken from cylinders found in Asia Minor.
In the first (fig. 137) the Sacred Tree is still plainly recognizable below the solar Disk; in the
Fig. 139. 1
second (fig. 138) it supports the latter; in the third (fig. 139) we find nothing more than a stick supporting the Winged Disk in the manner of a standard.
Let us now place side by side with these symbolic representations the following figures taken from Mesopotamian cylinders.
Fig. 140. Mesopotamian Cylinders. 2
The wings of the Globe have here disappeared: on the other hand the figures a and b, which are unquestionably connected with the rudimentary forms of the Sacred Tree (cf. above, fig. 61) draw
nearer at the same time to the Caduceus, as this last emblem appears in fig. c under the form of a mace.
Whether we have here at last the prototype of the Caduceus, or whether we are once again in the presence of other figurative representations which had merely felt the influence of this mysterious emblem, is a question which the relative age of the monuments concerned can alone decide. If, however, as everything goes to prove, it is to Mesopotamia that we must go for the earliest types of the Caduceus, nothing prevents us from assuming that the latter came directly from Asia Minor to Greece, without passing through the medium of the Libyan Caduceus.
As for the latest transformation which Greek art caused the Caduceus to undergo, it may be questioned if the introduction of the serpents and wings is not here evidence of a phenomenon of symbolic atavism, a return to old, or foreign, forms; or even of the persistency of a plastic tradition whose intermediate links have not come down to us. According to some writers the serpents of the classic Caduceus would be due to a transformation of the stemmata or scrolls which hang beneath the Circle. Now, as I have above shown, these latter, in the Winged Globes of Western Asia, are themselves a metamorphosis of the Egyptian uræi. It must be also borne in mind that the serpent twined round the end of a pole forms the symbol of Baal Hamman in the Punic imagery. 1 On the other hand, Fergusson alleges having noticed live serpents intertwined in this manner; the Greek artist would therefore have done nothing more than adjust to the Caduceus an image provided by real life. 2
At any rate, it is owing to this æsthetic transformation that the Caduceus was preserved until our own times to represent two functions of the ancient Hermes, which are more in vogue than ever with the human race, industry and commerce. Even in the matter of symbols nothing dies which deserves to live, and is capable of transformation.
In India, likewise, the Caduceus has survived to the present time under the form of two serpents intertwined. M. Guimet has found numerous specimens amongst the carvings placed as ex voto in the Vishnu temples of southern India. 1 It is probable that this symbol was introduced into India in the track of Alexander. It is found, indeed, on the coins of Sophytes, a native prince who copied the monetary types of the Seleucid kings, and it continued to be reproduced without interruption in the coinage of the Indo-Scythic sovereigns. But it is also met with in India under a simpler form which, like the earlier type of the Greek Caduceus, seems to be connected with the
Fig. 141. Varieties of Indian Caducei. 2
Asiatic Caduceus formed of a Disk surmounted by a Crescent. This combination, which is sometimes
placed on the top of a staff, and sometimes isolated like our astronomical sign , appears to have been confounded at an early date with the Buddhist trisula, whose manifold transformations deserve a chapter for themselves.
226:1 Revue archéologique for 1865, vol. xi. (new series), p. 490.
226:2 See above, figs. 117, 118, 121, 123, also 134B, and 136.
227:1 Perrot et Chipiez, vol. iii., p. 463.
227:2 Perrot et Chipiez, vol. iv., (Judée, Syrie, etc., figs. 274 and 353).
228:1 Ph. Berger L’ange d’Astarté, in the Faculté de théologie protestante à M. Edouard Reuss. Paris, 1879, pp. 52–54.
228:2 Fr. Lenormant. Gazette archéologique, 1876, p. 127.
228:3 Corpus inscriptionum semitic., fasc. iv., 1889; tab. liv., fig. 368.
228:4 Odyssey, v., lines 47, 48.
229:1 Maury. Histoire des religions de la Grèce antique. Paris, 1859, vol. iii., p. 265 et seq.
229:2 It is not even necessary for the Greeks to have believed in the identity of Hermes with the foreign divinity from whom they thus derived the Caduceus. It is, however, proper to point out that the analogies between Hermes and Baal Hamman were too numerous not to have struck their respective worshippers when once these gods came into contact with one another. Both are united to the goddess of love, Aphrodite-Astarte. Both have the ram as their sacred animal; this latter feature belongs to them in common with the Ammon of the Libyans and the Ammon-Ra of the Egyptians. The divinity who patronized the business dealings of the Phœnicians must have easily passed, in the eyes of the Greeks, for the god of commerce, and we know that Hermes appropriated this function in post Homeric times.
As for Malac Baal, M. Ph. Berger reminds us that he was, like Hermes, an initiator, an intermediate agent between mankind, and the superior divinity (L’ange d’Astarte, loc. cit., pp. 52–54). Both are represented and even personified by stelai and hermata, or bethels. Both assume, at times, the human figure with wings, save that Greek art placed the latter on the heels of its god; just as, in the Caduceus, it changed the position of the wings of the Winged Globe.
It may be added that the Greeks themselves had been impressed with this analogy between the messenger of Zeus and the hypostasis of Baal Hamman, for Pausanias (Elis, xv.) informs us that in the prytaneum of Olympia they rendered homage to Hera-Ammonia (probably Tanit), and to Parammon, divinities of Libya. "Parammon," he adds, "is a surname of Hermes."
230:1 Bulletin de l’Acad. roy. de Belgique, vol. xvi. (1888), p. 638 et seq.
231:1 a, See above, fig. 113; b, Sardinian scarab (Perrot et Chipiez, vol. iii., fig. 464).
233:1 On some coins of Carthage the Caduceus alternates with the Winged Globe above the horse. (Hunter, tab. xv., No. 14, and Lajard, pl. xlv., No. 5.)
233:2 Gazette archéologique for 1880, p. 127.
234:1 Lajard. Mithra, pl. xxxiii., fig. 4.—Id., Ibid., pl. lvii., fig. 5.—J. Menant. Pierres gravées, fig. 112.
234:2 a, Collection de Clerq, vol. i., pl. xxxi., fig. 330; b, Perrot et Chipiez, vol. ii., p. 342; c, Lajard. Mithra, pl. xxxviii., fig. 2.
235:1 Ph. Berger. La Trinité carthaginoise in the Gazette archéologique for 1879, p. 135.
235:2 Tree and Serpent Worship. Appendix.
236:1 Huit jours aux Indes, in the Tour du Monde for 1885, 1st part, p. 244.—See also Rivett Carnac. The Snake Symbol in India, in the Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1879, part i., pl. vi., fig. 4.
236:2 a, Percy Gardner. Coins in the British Museum. Greek and Scythic Kings of India and Bactria, pl. xxii., fig. 9.
b, Senart. Journal asiatique, 1875, vol. vi., p. 137.
c, Rivett Carnac. Coins of the Sunga or Mitra dynasty, in the Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1880, vol. xlix., pl. ix., fig. 19.