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ON THE TITLES AND MYTHOLOGICAL CHARAC.
TER OF MERCURY.
I have already alluded to the practice of sentimental swearing among the Greeks. No people ever so appropriately suited the action to the word, the word to the action, the sound to the sense. Dealers in horse-flesh would never think of swearing by any one but Neptune : the flaxen-headed ploughboy invoked Ceres: the sly chapman prayed to Mercury, to superintend his buyings and sellings in the market. But Mercury, like those of his disciples who grace the dock at the Old Bailey, tacked an alias to the end of his name, according to the occasion or the place. When the man of business wanted him, he was 'Eguñs 'Ayogaños, so named from àyoga, the market place. A statue of stone was raised to him in a city of Achaia called Pharæ, and he delivered oracular answers under a title suited to the occasion. What gave curiosity to this particular statue, was the unusual circumstance of its having a beard. A low altar of stone was placed before the statue, on which stood vases of brass soldered with lead to receive those contributions, so necessary to give flexibility to the mysterious tongue.
Another of his employments was to preside over sleep and dreams; the night, and all that belonged to it. After praying to all the rest of the gods,
men addressed Mercury last, and called upon him to send them a night of good dreams, as útvou Sològ. In the eighth book of Homer's Odyssey is the following passage :-.
'Αμφί δ' άρ' ερμίσιν χέε δέσματα κύκλω απάνθη:
On the word éguioiv, the scholiast gives this explanation :-Τοίς σοσί της κλίνης. "Ερμα γαρ ώσπερ εισί της κλίνης σαρά το ενείρεσθαι. But Eustathius furnishes us with a better etymology in reference to Mercury as the giver of sleep. Considering him in this capacity, they carved his images on the feet of the bed, and called them éguīves directly from his name. This seems a closer derivation than that of the scholiast, and still further appropriate as connecting the god of roguery with this humourous detection.
Another of his titles was Xtórios, the Infernal, probably in allusion to the power of vegetation : for seeds of every kind were dedicated to him, and carefully preserved in a pot; and the people scrupulously abstained from making them articles of food. This particular consecration seems to have been a device of policy, to intimidate them from the premature waste of those productions, on which future subsistence and plenty were entirely to depend.
Mercury was also Tourraios, an epithet denoting a person conducting another on his way. In this capacity, he was master of the ceremonies to Pluto,
and introduced the souls of the deceased to the shades below. Ajax, in Sophocles, addresses the following prayer to Mercury before he stabs himself:
Καλω δ' άμα
In the Agamemnon of Æschylus, Cassandra makes a nearly similar prayer, without the direct mention of Mercury :
"Αίδου σύλας δε τας λέγω, προσεννέπω.
Ως ασφάδαςος, αιμάτων ευθνησίμων
"Eguasa was a festival in honour of 'Egueñs, Mer. cury, recorded by Pausanias, in Arcadicis, to have been celebrated in Arcadia, as by the Cyllenians in Elis. In a celebration observed by the Tanagræans in Bæotia, Mercury bore the title of Kgsófogos, the Ram-bearer, and was represented with a ram upon his shoulder. The explanation of this emblem is understood to be, that in a season when the plague prevailed, he paraded the city with that burden, and cured all patients who applied to him. In memory of that deliverance, it became the custom for one of the most elegant young men in the city to perambulate the walls with a lamb or a ram upon his shoulders. Another festival of Mer- . cury was observed in the gymnastic schools of Athens, of which I am, according to academic phrase, in private duty bound to make honourable
mention. It was what in our public schools is called a holyday without exercise : the boys of course played at something resembling cricket; and the master's presence was not considered to spoil sport. But if by any momentary forgetfulness of the conditions, he brought into the arena an old fellow like himself, the established law was, that he should undergo the discipline he on ordinary occasions inflicted.
We have already observed, that Mercury was appointed to the office of conveying the ghosts to the regions below; and that for the reason therein involved, the dying made supplication to him in their last agonies. Valerius Maximus tells a story of a Cean matron, who determined to shorten the miseries of life by a dose of poison. But neither piety nor policy would allow her to approach that undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, without a solemn petition to Mercury for easy stages, and a comfortable lodging at the end of her journey. Prayers to this effect were sometimes offered to Mercury, and sometimes to other gods; and travelling prayers were always conceived in the same form, whether before a temporary journey to and fro, a permanent change of residence, or a final departure from the world.
But the outward-bound were not the only votaries of Mercury. Those who had only accompanied their departing friends to the coast were enlisted as tributary. At Argos, the surviving kindred or acquaintance sacrificed to Apollo, soon after they had put on their new mourning; and at the end of thirty days they performed the same homage to Mercury. The rationality of this proceeding, if there be any in it, is this : they con
ceived that the earth received the body, but that Mercury received the soul. The barley of the sacrifice they gave to the minister of Apollo ; the meat they took to themselves. Having extinguished the sacrificial fire, which they accounted to be polluted if they turned it to any secular or gastronomical account, they kindled another, over which they broiled their dinner, and devoutly snuffed the fumes as they ascended.
But we have advanced thus far without letting the reader into the birth, parentage, and education of our hero. History gives him out to be the son of Jupiter and Maia, which lady was the daughter of Atlas. His office was that of messenger to Jupiter and the other gods. Eloquence was under his immediate patronage. We have already seen that merchants, and of course the profits of trade, were his peculiar care. A whimsical etymology is given for the translation of Hermes into Mercurius: as if the Latin name were a syncopised abbreviation of Medicurrius, medius currebat between gods and men. This surely places him very much in the situation of Francis, in Henry the Fourth :“ Anon, anon, Sir !” Mr. Greatorex, the Timotheus of the present day, will know him for the inventor of the lyre and of the harp. Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Moore, Mr. Southey, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Hodgson, Mr. Merivale and the late Mr. Bland of anthological renown, will recognise him as the patron mercurialium virorum, of poets and men of genius. The leader of the opera band will hail him as the first practical musician, and the champion of England as the founder of the fancy.
But the columns of our newspapers on the morning after St. George's day bear witness, that the