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Mercury (Roman god)

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Mercury (in the center) on the Pompeian mosaic.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Mercury (Mercurius) was the Roman god of trade, profit, and mercantile; also thieves and tax collectors, the messenger of the gods. He was also a guide of souls in the underworld and therefore was considered the protector of travellers. His name probably comes from the Latin merx, or mercator, which means “merchant”. Hermes can be considered his counterpart in Greek mythology, and Turms in the Etruscan pantheon. Mercury belonged to the so-called Consentes Dii (consentes – “coexisting”), ie the twelve principal Roman deities. He was considered the son of Jupiter (his youngest) and Maya – the goddess of clouds.

The Temple of Mercury at Circus Maximus, between the Aventine Hill and Palatine Hill, was built in 495 BCE. The site did well as a place of worship for the god of trade and speed, as it was one of the main centres of commerce and racetracks. The location of the temple between the plebeian fortress on Aventine and the patrician centre on the Palatine also emphasized the role of a mediator often ascribed to Mercury.

On May 15, Mercuralia was celebrated. Then the merchants sprinkled their heads with water from the sacred spring of Mercury located near Porta Capena.

Mercury became very popular with the nations conquered by the Roman Empire. In Roman syncretism, he was likened to the Celtic god Lugus and the Germanic deity Wotan.

The Sign of Mercury.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

In the week, Wednesday was the day of Mercury worship. The Romans called this day Mercurii dies, so some cultures still use a different form of this name.

In classical art, it is easily recognizable thanks to the characteristic petasos hat (often with small wings attached), sandals with wings and a caduceus. In addition, he wore sheep fur.
According to mythology, Mercury was considered the inventor of stringed instruments and, consequently, one of the creators of music. After the Nile flooded Egypt and then retreated, Mercury found among the sunken animals a tortoiseshell with dried veins and this is how lyre was supposed to be made.

  • Kempiński Andrzej, Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich, Warszawa 2001
  • Schmidt Joël, Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej, Katowice 1996

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