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Letters to the editor

Editor, I always look forward to reading Australian Prescriber and the Editor's note on the eye of Horus was of interest (Aust Prescr 1995;18:23).

I understood from my initial studies in pharmacy that the symbol R stood for 'Recipe', the Latin for 'take thou', and the tail was a sign of the god of healing. Many pharmacists look on it as an invocation to interpret what follows in the interest of the patient. One pharmacist expressed the opinion that doctors who write illegible prescriptions demonstrate insecurity, like when one scribbles a word one cannot spell.

Duncan Cruickshank
Merewether West, N.S.W.

Editor, In the spirit of engendering further discussion on the matter, I was taught that Rx was an abbreviation of the Latin 'Recipe', imperative, translated as 'make up ...' as a directive to the pharmacist.

Peter Tait
General Practitioner
Alice Springs, N.T.

Editor, The symbol of the eye of Horus first appeared 5000 years ago. Horus, son of Isis, lost his sight after a vicious attack by the demon Set, but recovered his sight when his mother invoked the aid of Thoth. Thereafter, the Egyptian physicians invoked the god Horus and used as the symbol the eye, which became stylised as Fig. 1. The symbol meant health and happiness.

The symbol precedes Imhotep, the physician and advisor of Dzoser (or Zoser) in the third dynasty (circa. 2670 B.C.).1 The symbol is still present on the magnificent pectoral of Tutankhamen 1300 years later.2 Homer acknowledged that the Egyptians were skilled physicians and the sign of Horus was adopted to become the sign of Apollo by the Greek physicians. By this time, it was written as Fig. 2.

Fig. 1 __________Fig. 2

The Greek physicians who came as slaves to Rome brought with them their symbol, and Nero tried to ascribe the sign to Jupiter, the Roman god. He attempted to establish the sign as a symbol of the subjugation of the physician to the state.

The Christian Church in its turn attempted to Christianise the symbol by writing a double R and this was said to be an invocation to Raphael and his response Responsum Raphaelis. But the alchemists later returned to the original Greek symbol and this continues to this day. In the Age of Reason, the symbol was rationalised and said to be the initial R of the Latin 'Recipe' receive this prescription, or take up these ingredients.

Symbols are the secret code of mankind and the pictogram of the eye of Horus has become the symbol of the medical prescription today.

Robert F. O'Shea
Brisbane, Qld


Duncan Cruickshank

Pharmacist, Merewether West, N.S.W.

Peter Tait

General Practitioner, Alice Springs, N.T.

Robert F. O'Shea

Physician, Brisbane, Qld