The most popular of the gods, Mercury ruled over commerce and retail; medicine and science, thieves and beggars and delivered the dead. Read on…



To secure good luck and fortune the merchants of Rome celebrated MERCURY’S birthday during the festival Mercuralia, held on the Ides of May (May 15th). The merchants carried laurel boughs to sprinkle their merchandise, their ships, and their heads with water from a fountain at Porta Capena known as Aqua Mercurii; and offered prayers to Mercury for forgiveness of past and future perjuries, for profit, and the continued ability to maximise their profits (or more likely cheat their customers in the markets). 


Messenger to the gods, Mercury (based on the Greek god HERMES), was notoriously precocious, exceptionally bright, dynamic, charming – and untrustworthy. Within hours of his birth he created the first musical instrument, the lyre, from the shell of a tortoise and the guts of cattle (and thus creating music while he was at it), he created fire and successfully manoeuvred himself into the position of the Twelfth god. Not bad going for a 1 day old.

His agility and speed carved the obvious role of Messenger and to aid his fleetness of foot he was gifted winged sandals and a winged helmet. Like his brother he was a deity of light, a quicksilver light (for this reason the namesake of the liquid metal mercury still to be found in thermometers today).


His quick wit (and untrustworthiness) made him the obvious choice for trade, commerce, wealth and fortune of the time and his name was the origin of merx, mercari, and merces which respectively mean merchandise, to trade, and wages. These words are the origin for merchant, markets, supermarkets, merchandising in other words all matters retail.  His intellect and insight also allowed him the rule of science and medicine and his ornate silver staff entwined with two serpents (called a “caduceus” meaning “herald’s wand” in Latin) remains the symbol for pharmacies and ambulances today.


His intellect and silver tongue were the perfect traits for storytellers of the day, ranging from erudite and intellectual pursuits (literature, poetry and oratory) to the more audacious raconteurs: the rascals, liars, thieves, gamblers and conmen. His role as messenger was to liaise between the gods and humans, right to the bitter end. Arguably the original Grim Reaper, Mercury was the god responsible for collecting the souls of dead and delivering them safely to Pluto, god of the underworld.

“MERCURIAL – The word first used in 14C referring to astrology, characteristics of those born under the influence of the planet Mercury. And those characteristics came from Mercy himself: light-hearted, sprightly, volatile, changeable, quick, fluid and flighty.”

— Online Etymology Dictionary



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