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p218 Caduceus

Unsigned article on p218 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CADUCEUS (κηρύκειον, κηρύκιον, Thucyd. 53;º κηρύκήϊον, Herod. IX.100) was the staff or mace carried by heralds and ambassadors in time of war (Pollux, VIII.138). This name is also given to the staff which Hermes or Mercury is usually represented, as is shown in the following figure of Hermes, taken from an ancient vase, which is given in Millin's Peintures de Vases Antiques, vol. I pl. 70.


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The caduceus was originally only an olive branch with the στέμματα which were afterward formed into snakes (Müller, Archäologie der Kunst, p504). Later mythologists invented tales about these snakes. Hyginus tells us that Mercury once found two snakes fighting, and divided them with his wand; from which circumstance they were used as an emblem of peace (compare Plin. H. N. XXIX.3).

From caduceus was formed the word Caduceator, which signified a person sent to treat of peace (Liv. XXXII.32; Nep. Hannib. 11; Amm. Marc. XX.7; Gell. X.27). The persons of the Caduceatores were considered sacred (Cato, ap. Fest. s.v.; Cic. De Orat. I.46).º The Caduceus was not used by the Romans. They used instead verbena and sagmina, which were carried by the Fetiales (Dig. 1 tit. 8 s8). [Fetiales.]


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