HISTORY AND FABLE OF MERCURY.
The ancients reckoned fuch a number of
Mercuries, whofe reployments were fo widely dif-ferent, that
to avoid confuftion we muft recur to hiftory.
From that we learn that
the number muft be re-duced to two; the moft ancient of which
was the Thaut, or Thot, of the Egyptians, contemporary of Ofiris.
The fecond, according to Hefiod, was son to Jupiter and Maia,
daughter of Atlas. We meet with no perfon in antiquity more
celebrated that the Mercury of the Egyptians. He
was the foul council of Ofiris,
who, on his departure for the conqueft of India, left him with Ifis,
whom he had appointed regent of his domi-nions; confidering him
as the man moft capable of affifting her in the difcharge
of that office. To Mercury the Egyptians were indebted for the flourifhing
of their arts and commerce. Engaged in the ftudy of the moft
by his extenfive knowledge of geometry, he tught the Egyptians how
to diftinguifh their lands; whofe limites were frequently
deftroyed by the inundations of the Nile. He was the inesntor
by of hieroglyphick characters, which afterwards ferved to perpetuate
the memory of their religion and myfteries.
Diodorus Siculus agrees
with Hefiod as to the confidence repofed in him by the great
Ofiris, and adds, that the reformed and reduced to exact rules the
fubftituting it for the rude uncertain dialects
before made ufe of.
He gave names to things which
till then had none; firft invented letters, and regulated even the
harmony of words and phrafes.
After haing eftablifhed
the rites of facrifice and religious worfhip; he imparted
his knowledge of aftronomy to others. He was the inventor
of the lyre, which had originally but three ftrings, bafe,
tenor, and treble. He firft practifed elocu-tion and
interpretation, which afterwards procured
him the name Hermes. To him the Egyptians
afcribed the difcovery of the olive. he likewife
eftablifhed the cuftom of wreftling and dancing,
which give ftrength to the body, and grace to the motions.
The number of books
which he left are reckoned fourty-two, and nothing could equal the veneration
in which they were held by the Egyptians.
Some authors attribute
part of them to the fecond Egyptian Mercury, furnamed Trifmegiftus'
but their proofs are very dubious.
books have long been loft; it is only know that the firft
thirty-fix contained the whole of the Egyptian philofophy,
and that the laft fix treatd of medicine,
and anatomy. This is all that is tranfmitted to us of the
moft ancient of the Mercuries.
The fecond Mercury,
of Jupiter and Maia, acquired great reputation among the Titan Princes.
After the death of his
father, Italy, Gaul, and Spain, fell to his lot; but he was not abfolute
of them till the death of his uncle Pluto.
This prince poffeffing
great talents, great ad-drefs, and even great fublety, travelled
into Egypt to acquire a knowledge of the fciences and cuftoms
of that country. He there learned magic in particular, which was
then much in ufe.
He was confulted
by the Titans his relatioons as
an augur, which gae occafion to the poets
to de-fcribe him as interpreter of the will of the gods.
In this excurfion
into Egypt he obtained initia-tion into all their myfteries. The
ufe which Jupiter made of his addrefs and eloquence made
him regarded as the meffenger of the gods; and his fuccefs
in feveral treaties of peace procured him the appelation of God
of Peace. he contri-buted greatly to civilize the manners, and cultivate
the minds of people. he united them by commerce and good laws; but
the great defects which accompanied his extraordinary abilities in-volved
him in a war with the other chidren of Jupiter, in which he was vanquifhed;
and return-ing into Egypt ended his days there.
This Mercury of the
Greeks was generally re-garded as the inventor of the fine arts.
The Gauls honoured him
uner the name of Teutates, and offered to him human victims.
FABLE OF THE GREEKS CONCERNING MERCURY.
Mercury, fon to
Jupiter and Maia, daughter of Atlas, had the moft active employ-ment
of any of the celeftial deities. The confi-dant and meffenger
of the other gods, he was
charged with all their commiffions; upon
him depended peace and war; he prefided at their affemblies,
heard and infpired their harangues, anfwered them, and in
was principal minifter of the gods.
To exprefs the celerity
with whcih he per-formed fo many fuctions, he is reprefented
with wings to his head and feet. The latter are called Talaria.
To defcribe his
talents for negociating peace, his has the caduceam in his hand; (a fpecies
of want with two serpents twifted round it.) This caduceum
was the fymbol of peace. It is faid that mercury one
day finding two fnakes which were fighting, feparated them,
or rather cecon-ciled them with his wand, and from that time, when negociating
peace, he carried this symbol of reconciliation.
It was in honour of
Mercury, that negociators for peace afterwards carried the caduceum, and
called themfelves Caduciators. When Mercury was prprefented
with a finple wand, he wa fupofed to be conducting
departed fpirits tot he infernal regions. it was thought he
alone had the power of feparating with this wand the foul
from the body. He prefided over tranfmigration, and
transfufed into different bodies thofe fouls which
had remained their deftined time in the dominions of Pluto.
he was reprefented with a chain of
gold proceeding from his mouth, which was faftened
to the ears of his auditors. A lively image to defcribe the
influence of his eloquence over the mind.
His ftatues were
placed in the highway, to point out the road to travellers. The Romans
joined thefe ftatues to the back of thofe of the other
gods. Thofe which were plced be-hind Menerva, were called
Hermathenea; thofe which were joined to Cupid, Hermerotes, &c.
He wasc alled [sic]
Mercury from mercatura, Commerce; over which he prefided.
But as he was likewife fufpected of counternancing
knavery, he was confidered as the god of thieves; and his adventure
with Battus proves, that he would occafionally practife this
One day feeing
Apollo attending the flocks of Admetus, he ftole fome of
his cattle, but was per-ceived by Battus.
Mercury, to filence
him, and engage him to fecrecy, gave him a fine cow; but fufpecting
fincerity, he went away, and returned foon after under
another form; queftioned Battus concerning the theft, and promifed
him an ox and a cow if he would difcover the robber. Tempted
by fo dazzling an offer, the unlucky Battus difclofed
the fecret, and mercury immediately making him-felf known,
changed him into a touch-ftone. This
able originated in the circumftance of
Battus having firft difcovered the properties of that ftone
by which metals are tried.
Mercury was ftyled
the three-headed god, from his power in heaven, in earth, and in hell;
or according to fome poets, becaufe he had three daughters
by Hecate. He was called Cyllenius from the mountain Cyllenus where
he was born; Nomius from being the inventor of laws; Camillus from ferving
the gods (this name was after-wards given to thofe who officiated
in facrifices) and Vialis, becaufe he prefided over
the high-ways; on which occafion his ftatues had neither
hands nor feet, being what are now called bufts.
Mercury was the inventor
of weights and meafures, which by facilitating retail trade, increafed
the profits of commerce.
The lyre was alfo
of his invention; it was called by the Romans teftudo, tortoife;
be-caufe it was originally formed of the fhell of that animal.
Some poets fay,
that he gave it to Apollo in exchange for the caduceus.
In his facrifices
they burnt the tongues of vic-tims in honour of him, as being the god of
elo-quence. They ufed to place his ftatue before their
door, in hopes he would defend them from thieves, whofe patron he
was fuppofed to be.