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Mercury / Hermes

The Gods work in mysterious ways....but sometimes they just got to get the message across pretty bluntly. So, in absence of some kind of Olympus Telephone Company, who are they going To call but the chief messenger. In Greek mythology that was Hermes. In later years, the Romans called that god Mercury. As a god, he was the swiftest--nobody could get there faster than Hermes. When the planets were given names related to the gods, back in the ancient days of Greek astronomy, the fastest planet was named for the winged one.
   

BIOGRAPHY

Hermes is the son of Zeus and Maia, goddess of clouds and one of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas. He was born in Arcadia, near the mountain Cyllene. He was washed by nymphs at the mountain Tricrena, also in Arcadia. While some babies enjoy rubber duckies, Hermes' holy-bird was Gallus, the cock or rooster (also known these days as a messenger of sorts). The ram (as in Aries) is also considered one of Hermes' favored pets.

A precocious youth, he stole a herd of cows from Apollo, a mere five minutes after he was born. From some of the cows' internal guts, er, fibers, young Hermes put together the lyre, a kind of handheld harp, upon which Apollo made the best music in the universe. On this basis, Hermes became the patron of trickster and thieves, and was forgiven for his transgression by Apollo. For himself, Hermes made the shepherd-pipe, similar to the pipes used by his future son, Pan.

No wire of Hermes has been clearly identified. He, therefore, was rather promiscuous, but then, so were all the rest of the Greek gods. With liasons with the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, another offspring of Zeus, he had a daughter, Peitho, the personification of persuasion and seduction. Apparently they had at least two more daughters, Tyche and Eunomia. They also had a son, Hermaphroditus, an offspring having a great relationship with both his masculine and feminine sides. In some mythological stories, the two Olympians also were parents of Eros though this is disputed.

A liaison with Penelope produced a son, Pan. This personage is, of course, well known as the pipe playing god of shepherds, and if not as quick as Dad, was definitely a swift runner.

As befits the patron of thieves, another son became the great thief Autolycus. Autolycus was the offspring of Chione and Hermes, and the grandfather of hero Odysseus. Hermes later helps rescue his great-grandson (twice) from harm during the latter's 10-year, post-Trojan War "Odyssey."

The Bacchus-like Silenus is sometimes claimed to be Hermes son and Pan's brother, some legends say he is Pan's son. And there are many more sons and daughters, including some of the Argonauts. Hermes....was no hermit.

 

 

RESIDENCES

After changing heavenly citizenship roles (from Egyptian deity to Greek) his Egyptian center of worship became known as Hermopolis. In Rome he had a temple near the Circus Maximus, on Aventine Hill. It was the site of a trade fair. Mercury also had a well near the Porta Capena.

 

CELEBRATIONS

The principal holiday for the merchant god was Mercuralia, May 15th (Drat! Missed it!). Among the Celtics and Germans existed cults of Mercury worshippers.

As one of the five "moving stars" or "planets", Mercury's name is the origin of "Wednesday." In French, this is 'mercredi', coming from the Latin 'Mercurii dies', or Mercury's day.

 

WORK HISTORY

Hermes served as messenger for Zeus (though sometimes he job-shares with Iris, the goddess of the dawn) and as sometime conductor of souls of the dead to Hades. He was also known as "the guide and giver of good." As one of Jupiter's favorites (as Mercury) he was considered the most entertaining, the most shrewd and the most resourceful god. When Jupiter tired of Olympus, he chose Mercury to accompany him on forays to Earth, both disguised as mortals.

In his job as messenger, he wears a broad-rimmed traveller's hat called a petasos or petasus, talaria or winged sandals made "of imperishable gold whcih bore him swift as a breath of air over sea and earth," and carries a cadeuceus or herald's staff around which serpents or ribbons may be found. The cadeuceus is said to be able to charm men's eyes to sleep.He also carries a purse (more like a money-bag actually....). The purse signifies his role as the Greek god of riches, trade and good fortune and the Roman god of trade, profit, merchants and travellers. He took over the latter job from the Dei Lucre, early Roman deities of commerce (from which, I suspect, comes the phrase "filthy lucre"). Hermes also changed his name to Mercury. Among his personal favorite commercial activities was the corn trade. Mercury's relationship to business and speed survive in words like "mercurial" and mercantile." Because of his speed he is sometimes considered a god of the winds.

To the Babylonians he was viewed as the bearer of riches. To the astrologers of the Renaissance he was the bringer of misfortune.

 

SYMBOL

Mercury's `corporate logo' is often described as representing the messenger's cadeuceus or wand with two snakes curled around it. In some versions of the logo's origin it is said to be Mercury in his winged hat or petasos.

 

 

TRADE NAMES

To the Germans he was Wodan.
To the Greeks he was also known as Alipes (the one with winged feet).
To the pre-Roman Etruscans he was Turms, guide of the deceased to the underworld, and messenger of the gods.
To the Egyptians he was known as messenger of the gods Thoth. As such he was the origin of the deity Hermes Trismegistus, or "Thrice-great Hermes." The three part title comes from this version of Hermes being the Greek writer of astrological texts and responsible for occult arts including alchemy, and the Egyptian god who invented hieroglyphics and calendar-keeping and also judged the souls of the deceased.
To the Sumerians he was Gud, a god favoring welcome rains, agricultural fertility and harvest abundance.

To the and Assyrians he was Nabu, the "herald." Instead of being the messenger of the gods, he was the heavenly secretary, keeping track of the words of the gods. This also made him the Assyrian god of knowledge and the recorder of fate for people for the next year.

 

 

OTHER WORK EXPERIENCE

Taught the Thriae, winged female spirits who live on Mount Parnassus, the art of prophesy.

At Zeus' command, disguised himself as a goatherd, sang the 100-eyed Argus (guarding Zeus' ex-lover Io whom Zeus had changed to a cow so Hera wouldn't know about his extra-marital affair--got all that?) to sleep, killed him but failed to bring back Io.

Taught the curious Pandora the art of persuasion.

Music teacher to Amphion, a stepbrother via Zeus. Amphion later changed careers to engineering, building the walls of Thebes.

Delivered Zeus' command to Hades to release Persephone so that the mourning earth could once again bear life. (Another legend says Hermes later, er, ravaged Persephone).

Mercury delivered Jupiter's command to Aeneas, the Trojan equivalent to Odysseus, leave his new love Dido at Carthage and journey on (eventually to Italy where he founded the Roman Empire).

Helped Perseus plan and slay Medusa, including giving him the sword needed to cut off Medusa's head, guiding him through the Hyperboreans' land where most travellers perish, and flying him personally to the land where the Gorgons slept.

Helped the war god Ares escape from the chains in which Otus and Ephialtes, two Giants, had ensnared him.

Brought the word of Zeus to Calypso to release Odysseus to let him return to his wife.

Before that, he met his grandson at the home of Circe and gave him an herb allowing him to drink and eat anything she gave him without harm, thereby causing Circe to fall in love with Odysseus and to give him all the aid he and his men needed to continue home.

Taught Horge, daughter of Zeus, goddess of seasons, and waitress of the sun-god.

Answered the prayer of the mother of Phrixius, a would-be human sacrifice, sending a ram with fleece of pure gold to carry him to safety.

Gave an after-death encore at life to Protesilaus, the first Greek to land at Troy, and to die there. During his funeral, Hermes allowed him to attend, to comfort his grieving widow, but she chose to kill herself when he went back down to Hades afterwards.

Mercury brought the mortal Psyche (synonymous with Soul) to Mt. Olympus so she could marry Cupid.

In one of the best known legends (related to us by Ovid), Mercury and Jupiter disguise themselves as beggars in the land of Phrygia. Only one house offered them hospitality and shelter, that of an elderly couple Baucis and Philomen. For their kindness and as punishment to the country that had turned the gods away, the land was cleansed of the citizens by a flood, the hovel was turned into an ornate temple and the couple into priests. When they died, the faithful pair died together, forming a linden and an oak tree, growing from a single trunk.

As Hermes Trismegistus he authored the Hermetic Books, an astonishing 36,525 volumes of magic and wisdom, and Egyptian history. Despite this huge number, no volumes are known to exist today.....

   

 

 
 

 

 

 

  

Research for this page was gathered from:

  • Edith Hamilton's classic "Mythology, Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes," Mentor Books, 1942
  • "Bullfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable", Mentor Books, 1962
  • The Encyclopedia Mythica
  • E.C. Krupp's article on Mercury lore in the March 1998 Sky and Telescope magazine, Page 88.

 

 


 

                          Zeus+Maia
                                          |
                         ---------------Hermes-----------
                        +                   +          +
                   Aphrodite            Penelope     Chione
                        |                    |          |
             ------------------------      Pan     Autolycus
             |     |     |          |                   |
          Peitho Tyche Eunomia  Hermaphroditus     Laertes
                                                       |
                                                   Odysseus
 
 

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   UPDATED 01/19/14

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