Mercury (mythology)

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Mercury
God of financial gain, commerce, travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery, merchants, thieves
Mercury (deity) relief.jpg
Consecration relief with the god Mercury (right). A man is offering a goat at an altar
Symbol Caduceus, winged sandals, winged hat, tortoise, ram and rooster
Personal information
Consort Larunda
Children Lares
Parents Maia and Jupiter
Greek equivalent Hermes
Seated Hermes, excavated at the Villa of the Papyri. Mercury-in-repose-Villa-of-the-Papyri-Herculaneum-1908-Barker.jpg
Seated Hermes, excavated at the Villa of the Papyri.

Mercury ( /ˈmɜːrkjʊri/ ; Latin: Mercurius [mɛrˈkurius] Loudspeaker.svg listen  ) is a major god in Roman religion and mythology, being one of the 12 Dii Consentes within the ancient Roman pantheon. He is the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld. [1] [2] He was considered the son of Maia, who was a daughter of the Titan Atlas, and Jupiter in Roman mythology. [3] His name is possibly related to the Latin word merx ("merchandise"; cf. merchant, commerce, etc.), mercari (to trade), and merces (wages); another possible connection is the Proto-Indo-European root merĝ- for "boundary, border" (cf. Old English "mearc", Old Norse "mark" and Latin "margō") and Greek οὖρος (by analogy of Arctūrus/Ἀρκτοῦρος), as the "keeper of boundaries," referring to his role as bridge between the upper and lower worlds.[ citation needed ] In his earliest forms, he appears to have been related to the Etruscan deity Turms; both gods share characteristics with the Greek god Hermes. He is often depicted holding the caduceus in his left hand. Similar to his Greek equivalent Hermes, he was awarded the caduceus by Apollo who handed him a magic wand, which later turned into the caduceus.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Religion in ancient Rome Polytheistic religion and practices of the Ancient Romans

Religion in Ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion of the city of Rome that the Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Roman rule, in so far as they became widely followed in Rome and Italy. The Romans thought of themselves as highly religious, and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety (pietas) in maintaining good relations with the gods. The Romans are known for the great number of deities they honored, a capacity that earned the mockery of early Christian polemicists.

Contents

History

Mercury did not appear among the numinous di indigetes of early Roman religion. Rather, he subsumed the earlier Dei Lucrii as Roman religion was syncretized with Greek religion during the time of the Roman Republic, starting around the 4th century BC. From the beginning, Mercury had essentially the same aspects as Hermes, wearing winged shoes (talaria) and a winged hat (petasos), and carrying the caduceus, a herald's staff with two entwined snakes that was Apollo's gift to Hermes. He was often accompanied by a cockerel, herald of the new day, a ram or goat, symbolizing fertility, and a tortoise, referring to Mercury's legendary invention of the lyre from a tortoise shell.

<i>Di indigetes</i>

In Georg Wissowa's terminology, the di indigetes or indigites were Roman deities not adopted from other religions, as distinguished from the di novensides. Wissowa thus regarded the indigetes as "indigenous" gods, and the novensides as "newcomer gods". Ancient usage, however, does not treat the two terms as a dichotomy, nor maintain this clear-cut distinction. Wissowa's interpretation is no longer widely accepted and the meaning remains uncertain.

The dii lucrii or dei lucrii are a collective of Roman deities mentioned by the Christian apologist Arnobius :

"Indeed, who is there who would believe that there are gods of profit, and that they preside over the pursuit of profits, which come most of the time from base sources and always at the expense of others?"

Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture as well as politics.

Hendrik Goltzius: Mercury, with his symbols Mercurybyhendrickgoltzius.jpeg
Hendrik Goltzius: Mercury, with his symbols

Like Hermes, he was also a god of messages, eloquence and of trade, particularly of the grain trade. Mercury was also considered a god of abundance and commercial success, particularly in Gaul, where he was said to have been particularly revered. [4] He was also, like Hermes, the Romans' psychopomp, leading newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Additionally, Ovid wrote that Mercury carried Morpheus' dreams from the valley of Somnus to sleeping humans. [5]

Gaul region of ancient Europe

Gaul was a historical region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. It covered an area of 494,000 km2 (191,000 sq mi). According to the testimony of Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts: Gallia Celtica, Belgica, and Aquitania. Archaeologically, the Gauls were bearers of the La Tène culture, which extended across all of Gaul, as well as east to Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and southwestern Germania during the 5th to 1st centuries BC. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Gaul fell under Roman rule: Gallia Cisalpina was conquered in 203 BC and Gallia Narbonensis in 123 BC. Gaul was invaded after 120 BC by the Cimbri and the Teutons, who were in turn defeated by the Romans by 103 BC. Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of Gaul in his campaigns of 58 to 51 BC.

Psychopomp entity believed to escort deceased souls to an afterlife

Psychopomps are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply to guide them. Appearing frequently on funerary art, psychopomps have been depicted at different times and in different cultures as anthropomorphic entities, horses, deer, dogs, whip-poor-wills, ravens, crows, owls, sparrows and cuckoos. When seen as birds, they are often seen in huge masses, waiting outside the home of the dying.

Ovid Roman poet

Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature. The Imperial scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the Latin love elegists. He enjoyed enormous popularity, but, in one of the mysteries of literary history, was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death. Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, "a poem and a mistake", but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

Archeological evidence from Pompeii suggests that Mercury was among the most popular of Roman gods. [6] The god of commerce was depicted on two early bronze coins of the Roman Republic, the Sextans and the Semuncia. [7]

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

Sextans (coin)

The sextans was an Ancient Roman bronze coin produced during the Roman Republic valued at one-sixth of an as. The most common design for the sextans was the bust of Mercury and two pellets on the obverse and the prow of a galley on the reverse. Earlier types depicted a scallop shell, a caduceus, or other symbols on the obverse.

Semuncia

The semuncia, symbol '𐆒', was an ancient Roman bronze coin valued at one-twenty-fourth of an as produced during the Roman Republic. It was made during the beginning of Roman cast bronze coinage as the lowest valued denomination. The most common obverse types were a head of Mercury or an acorn, and the most common reverse types were a prow or a caduceus. It was issued until ca. 210 BC, at about the same time as the denarius was introduced.

Mercury portrait on a bronze Semuncia (215-211 BC) Mercury Semuncia 200BC.jpg
Mercury portrait on a bronze Semuncia (215–211 BC)

Syncretism

When they described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana . Mercury, in particular, was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered; Julius Caesar wrote of Mercury being the most popular god in Britain and Gaul, regarded as the inventor of all the arts. [8] This is probably because, in the Roman syncretism, Mercury was equated with the Celtic god Lugus, and in this aspect was commonly accompanied by the Celtic goddess Rosmerta. Although Lugus may originally have been a deity of light or the sun (though this is disputed), similar to the Roman Apollo, his importance as a god of trade made him more comparable to Mercury, and Apollo was instead equated with the Celtic deity Belenus. [5]

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–476 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. Ruled by emperors, it had large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. From the constitutional reforms of Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, the Empire was a principate ruled from the city of Rome. The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided in a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus after capturing Ravenna and the Senate of Rome sent the imperial regalia to Constantinople. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to barbarian kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Julius Caesar 1st-century BC Roman politician and general

Gaius Julius Caesar, known by his nomen and cognomen Julius Caesar, was a Roman politician, military general, and historian who played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He also wrote Latin prose.

Celtic mythology collective term for all the fabulous profane and religious narratives of the Celts

Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. For Celts in close contact with Ancient Rome, such as the Gauls and Celtiberians, their mythology did not survive the Roman Empire, their subsequent conversion to Christianity and the loss of their Celtic languages. It is mostly through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that their mythology has been preserved. The Celtic peoples who maintained either political or linguistic identities left vestigial remnants of their ancestral mythologies that were put into written form during the Middle Ages.

Romans associated Mercury with the Germanic god Wotan, by interpretatio Romana ; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples. [9]

Germanic paganism

Germanic paganism refers to the indigenous religion of the Germanic people from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, Continental Germanic paganism among the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the West Germanic people. Among the East Germanic peoples, traces of Gothic paganism may be discerned from scant artifacts and attestations. According to John Thor Ewing, as a religion it consisted of "individual worshippers, family traditions and regional cults within a broadly consistent framework".

Tacitus Roman senator and historian

PubliusCornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus, in 14 AD, to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War, in 70 AD. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including a gap in the Annals that is four books long.

Names and epithets

Mercury is known to the Romans as Mercurius and occasionally in earlier writings as Merqurius, Mirqurios or Mircurios, had a number of epithets representing different aspects or roles, or representing syncretisms with non-Roman deities. The most common and significant of these epithets included the following:

A statue of the Greek god Hermes at Hart House, Toronto Hermes-Mercury.jpg
A statue of the Greek god Hermes at Hart House, Toronto

In ancient literature

In Virgil's Aeneid , Mercury reminds Aeneas of his mission to found the city of Rome. In Ovid's Fasti , Mercury is assigned to escort the nymph Larunda to the underworld. Mercury, however, falls in love with Larunda and makes love to her on the way. Larunda thereby becomes mother to two children, referred to as the Lares, invisible household gods.

Temple

Mercury's temple in Rome was situated in the Circus Maximus, between the Aventine and Palatine hills, and was built in 495 BC. [14]

That year saw disturbances at Rome between the patrician senators and the plebeians, which led to a secession of the plebs in the following year. At the completion of its construction, a dispute emerged between the consuls Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis and Publius Servilius Priscus Structus as to which of them should have the honour of dedicating the temple. The senate referred the decision to the popular assembly, and also decreed that whichever was chosen should also exercise additional duties, including presiding over the markets, establish a merchants' guild, and exercising the functions of the pontifex maximus. The people, because of the ongoing public discord, and in order to spite the senate and the consuls, instead awarded the honour of dedicating the temple to the senior military officer of one of the legions named Marcus Laetorius. The senate and the consuls, in particular the conservative Appius, were outraged at this decision, and it inflamed the ongoing situation. [15]

The dedication occurred on 15 May, 495 BC. [16]

The temple was regarded as a fitting place to worship a swift god of trade and travel, since it was a major center of commerce as well as a racetrack. Since it stood between the plebeian stronghold on the Aventine and the patrician center on the Palatine, it also emphasized the role of Mercury as a mediator.[ citation needed ]

Worship

Because Mercury was not one of the early deities surviving from the Roman Kingdom, he was not assigned a flamen ("priest"), but he did have his own major festival, on 15 May, the Mercuralia. During the Mercuralia, merchants sprinkled water from his sacred well near the Porta Capena on their heads.

Mercury as the winged messenger on a 1949 St. Lucia stamp issued in connection with the Universal Postal Union Mercury on a St. Lucia 1949 UPU stamp.jpg
Mercury as the winged messenger on a 1949 St. Lucia stamp issued in connection with the Universal Postal Union
1956 Mercury Montclair hardtop Mercury Montclair 1956 (15480211331).jpg
1956 Mercury Montclair hardtop

Related Research Articles

Cernunnos deity

Cernunnos is the conventional name given in Celtic studies to depictions of the "horned god" of Celtic polytheism. Cernunnos was a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. The name itself is only attested once, on the 1st-century Pillar of the Boatmen, but he appears all over Gaul, and among the Celtiberians. Cernunnos is depicted with the antlers of a stag, seated cross-legged, associated with animals, and holding or wearing torcs. This deity is known from over 50 examples in the Gallo-Roman period, mostly in north-eastern Gaul.

Caduceus staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology

The caduceus is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology and consequently by Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology. The same staff was also borne by heralds in general, for example by Iris, the messenger of Hera. It is a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In Roman iconography, it was often depicted being carried in the left hand of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead, and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves.

Arvernus deity

In Gallo-Roman religion, Arvernus was the tribal god of the Arverni and an epithet of the Gaulish Mercury. Although the name refers to the Arverni, in whose territory Mercury had at important sanctuary at the Puy-de-Dôme in the Massif Central, all of the inscriptions to Mercury Arvernus are found farther away along the Rhenish frontier. The similar name Mercury Arvernorix, ‘king of the Arverni’, is also recorded once. Compare also the title Mercury Dumiatis, found in the territory of the Arverni. The name, like the name of the Arverni and of Auvergne, appears to derive from a Proto-Celtic compound adjective *φara-werno-s ‘in front of alders’.

Belenus is a sun god from Celtic mythology and, in the 3rd century, the patron deity of the Italian city of Aquileia. Called the "Fair Shining One", he was one of the most ancient and most-widely worshiped Celtic deities and is associated with the ancient fire festival and modern Sabbat Beltane. He was associated with the horse and also the wheel. Perhaps like Apollo, with whom he became identified in the Augustan History, Belenos was thought to ride the sun across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot.

In Lusitanian and Celtic polytheism, Borvo was the Celtic God of Minerals and healing deity associated with bubbling spring water.

Grannus water deity

In the Celtic polytheism of classical antiquity, Grannus was a deity associated with spas, healing thermal and mineral springs, and the sun. He was regularly identified with Apollo as Apollo Grannus. He was frequently worshipped in conjunction with Sirona, and sometimes with Mars and other deities.

Lugus

Lugus was a deity of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from place names and ethnonyms, and his nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed to have been identified with Lugus, and from the quasi-mythological narratives involving his later cognates, Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Irish Lugh Lámhfhada.

Maponos deity

In ancient Celtic religion, Maponos or Maponus is a god of youth known mainly in northern Britain but also in Gaul. In Roman Britain, he was equated with Apollo.

Classical mythology both the body of and the study of myths from the ancient Greeks and Romans as they are used or transformed by cultural reception

Classical Greco-Roman mythology, Greek and Roman mythology or Greco-Roman mythology is both the body of and the study of myths from the ancient Greeks and Romans as they are used or transformed by cultural reception. Along with philosophy and political thought, mythology represents one of the major survivals of classical antiquity throughout later Western culture. The Greek word mythos refers to the spoken word or speech, but it also denotes a tale, story or narrative.

Maia in Greek mythology, not to be confused with Maia in Roman mythology

Maia, in ancient Greek religion, is one of the Pleiades and the mother of Hermes.

<i>Interpretatio graeca</i>

Interpretatio graeca is a discourse in which ancient Greek religious concepts and practices, deities, and myths are used to interpret or attempt to understand the mythology and religion of other cultures. It is thus a comparative methodology that looks for equivalencies and shared characteristics. The phrase may describe Greek efforts to explain others' beliefs and myths, as when Herodotus describes Egyptian religion in terms of perceived Greek analogues, or when Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch document Roman cults, temples, and practices under the names of equivalent Greek deities. Interpretatio graeca may also describe non-Greeks' interpretation of their own belief systems by comparison or assimilation with Greek models, as when Romans adapt Greek myths and iconography under the names of their own gods.

Gallo-Roman religion religion

Gallo-Roman religion was a fusion of the traditional religious practices of the Gauls, who were originally Celtic speakers, and the Roman and Hellenistic religions introduced to the region under Roman Imperial rule. It was the result of selective acculturation.

According to the Roman historian Livy, Jupiter Indiges is the name given to the deified hero Aeneas. In some versions of his story, he is raised up to become a god after his death by Numicius, a local deity of the river of the same name, at the request of Aeneas' mother Venus. The title Pater Indiges or simply Indiges is also used.

Visucius deity

Visucius was a Gallo-Roman god, usually identified with Mercury. He was worshipped primarily in the east of Gaul, around Trier and on the Rhine; his name is recorded on about ten dedicatory inscriptions. One such inscription has also been found in Bordeaux. Visucius is, along with Gebrinius and Cissonius, among the most common indigenous epithets of the Gaulish Mercury.

Moccus is a Celtic god who was equated with Mercury. He is the boar/pig/swine god of the continental Celtic Lingones tribe. Moccus was invoked as the protector of boar hunters, and warriors. Boar meat was sacred, and eaten in ritual feasts. The Lingones whose tribal center was at Langres were a continental Celtic-Germanic tribe located in the Seine and Marne rivers area of northeastern France, and were neighbors to the Germanic Treveri tribe. Another Lingones tribe was located near the mouth of the Po River in northeastern Italy, and were known for agriculture, weaving and metalworking.

Toutatis or Teutates is a Celtic god who was worshipped in ancient Gaul and Britain. On the basis of his name's etymology, he has been widely interpreted to be a tribal protector.

Celtic deities Gods and goddesses of the Ancient Celtic religion

The gods and goddesses of the pre-Christian Celtic peoples are known from a variety of sources, including ancient places of worship, statues, engravings, cult objects and place or personal names. The ancient Celts appear to have had a pantheon of deities comparable to others in Indo-European religion, each linked to aspects of life and the natural world. By a process of synthesism, after the Roman conquest of Celtic areas, these became associated with their Roman equivalent, and their worship continued until Christianization. Ancient Celtic art produced few images of deities, and these are hard to identify, lacking inscriptions, but in the post-conquest period many more images were made, some with inscriptions naming the deity. Most of the specific information we have therefore comes from Latin writers and the archaeology of the post-conquest period. More tentatively, links can be made between ancient Celtic deities and figures in early medieval Irish and Welsh literature, although all this was produced well after Christianization.

References

  1. Glossary to Ovid's Fasti, Penguin edition, by Boyle and Woodard at 343
  2. Rupke, The Religion of the Romans, at 4
  3. Forever, Italian. "Mercury - Messenger Of The Gods". 5amily. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  4. Caesar, Gallic War, at 55
  5. 1 2 Littleton, C. Scott (Ed.) (2002). Mythology: The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling (pp. 195, 251, 253, 258, 292). London: Duncan Baird Publishers. ISBN   1-904292-01-1.
  6. Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town at 295–298
  7. Sear, David R. (2000). Roman Coins and Their Values – The Millennium Edition. Volume I: The Republic and The Twelve Caesars, 280BC-AD96 (pp. 187–189). London: Spink. ISBN   1-902040-35-X
  8. De Bello Gallico 6.17
  9. Germania 9
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Green, Miranda J. (1992). Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend (pp. 148–149). London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN   0-500-01516-3.
  11. Alarcão, Jorge de (1988). Roman Portugal. Volume I: Introduction (p. 93). Warminster: Aris and Phillips.
  12. Potter, David. "Review of "Rome and Carthage at Peace" by R.E.A.Palmer". Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  13. Espérandieu, E. (1931). Recueil Général des Bas-relief, Statues et Bustes de la Germanie Romaine. Paris and Brussels.
  14. Livy, Ab urbe condita , 2:21
  15. Livy, Ab urbe condita , 2.27
  16. Livy, Ab urbe condita , 2.21
  17. Marvel Visionaries, Jack Kirby, Marvel Comics, 2004
  18. "1916-1945 Mercury Silver Dime Value". Coinflation.