MERCURIUS

Mercury, by Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617), Dutch Baroque painter

Mercury, by Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617), Dutch Baroque

A Roman divinity of commerce and gain, probably one of the dii lucrii. The character of the god is clear from his name, which is connected with merx and mercari. (Paul. Diac. p. 124, ed. Müller; Schol. ad Pers. Sat. v. 112.) A temple was built to him as early as B. C. 495 (Liv. ii. 21, 27; Ov. Fast. v. 669), near the Circus Maximus (P. Vict. Reg. Urb. xi.); and an altar of the god existed near the Porta Capena, by the side of a well; and in later times a temple seems to have been built on the same spot. (Ov. Fast. v. 673; P. Vict. Reg. Urb. i.) Under the name of the ill-willed, Malevolus, he had a statue in what was called the vices sobrius, or the sober street, in which no shops were allowed to be kept, and milk was offered to him there instead of wine. (Fest. pp. 161, 297, ed. Miller.) This statue had a purse in its hand, to indicate his functions. (Schol. ad Pers. l.c.) His festival was celebrated on the 25th of May, and chiefly by merchants, who also visited the well near the Porta Capena, to which magic powers were ascribed; and with water from that well they used to sprinkle themselves and their merchandise, that they might be purified, and yield a large profit. (Ov. Fast. v. 670 &c.; Fest. p. 148, ed. Müller.)

The Romans of later times identified Mercurius, the patron of merchants and tradespeople, with the Greek Hermes, and transferred all the attributes and myths of the latter to the former (Hor. Carm. i. 10), although the Fetiales never recognised the identity; and instead of the caduceus used a sacred branch as the emblem of peace. The resemblance between Mercurius and Hermes is indeed very slight; and their identification is a proof of tile thoughtless manner in which the Romans acted in this respect. [Comp. HERMES.]

Mercury Appearing to Aeneas, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804), Italian Baroque painter

Mercury Appearing to Aeneas, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804), Italian Baroque painter