The Rod of Asclepius (or Staff of Asclepius) is the ancient Greek symbol that has become internationally recognized symbol of medicine. It depicts a serpent entwined around a staff that is traditionally a knotty tree stick. The symbol is associated with the Greek demigod, Asclepius who was renowned for his unsurpassed medical prowess and healing powers. According to myths, he got his medical knowledge through the whispering of snakes that have the ability to periodically shedding their skin and emerging bigger, healthier and shinier than before.
In honor of Asclepius, a particular type of non-venomous snake was often used in healing rituals, and these snakes – the Aesculapian snakes – crawled around freely on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. These snakes were introduced at the founding of each new temple of Asclepius throughout the classical world. From about 300 BCE onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the god (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary – the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation. Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.