In Roman mythology, Mercury or Mercurius, equivalent to Greek god. Hermes) is the swift messenger or courier to Jupiter (Zeus) and the other gods. His many followers associated him as the important god of travel, trade and prosperity. Mercurys mother was Maia, the daughter of Atlas, and from her union with Jupiter (Zeus), gave birth to him at dawn in a cave at Mount Cyllene in the legendary and fabulous Arcadia. During his younger days, he played the lyre at midday, which he invented from a tortoise shell – and this became the northern constellation of Lyra. The strings he obtained from cow innards, one of the many he had stolen from Apollo. Mercurys reward for his bold cunning in stealing these cattle from under the very nose of Apollo, was his elevation to god-hood, and to be and taken to Mount Olympus to join the many other classical gods.

In some of these ancient mythologies, this daring theft also made Mercury associated with thieves and robbers. This story is often viewed as antithetical on a number of levels. Apollo is the diametrically opposing god of truth, where as Mercury is aligned more as the god of lies and treachery. (Apollo, too, is also the celebrated for the arts, divination, as the bearer of plagues on humanity, and is the patron of archery.) From about 450 BC, these opposing views are also within the mythology of the Ancient Greeks. Like the morning and evening appearances of the planet Venus, they also thought Mercury was two different planets on opposing sides of the Sun. They named them Apollo and Hermes, corresponding to the respective observed evening and morning apparitions of the planet. These separate appearances of the same planet remained in legend well after it was determined these two bodies were one of the same body. The story of his birth at dawn, which he shares gloriously with Eos (Aurora), for example, reflects the apperance of the Hermes (Mercury) in the early morning sky. His divine music played during the middle of the day from the lyre, reflects the heavenly or etherial music of the gods, gently whispering on the airs and breezes, while taking unknown and invisible errands among the gods. He only appears again during the evening twilight, where he travels to the region of Pieria near Macedonia in northern Greece to rest. Thus appearing towards the west after the setting sun.

We often portray Mercury wearing golden winged shoes or sandals (talaria), a winged helmet or cap made from wool or leather (petassos), and a suitable purse or bag to hold his messages. He also carries the golden Caduceus, the winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it. In ancient times, this represented trade and commerce, but is now commonly epitomises medical organisations and hospitals, medicines and other places that heal the sick. He was formally venerated to symbolise the crops grown by the ancient rural farmers, and was celebrated by the Romans each year on 15th May, during the festival known as the Mercuralia. He was once considered the Roman protector of the important wheat trade and had his dedicated temple to worship him near the Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome from the beginning of the 5th Century B.C.


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Last Update : 22nd September 2019

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