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Mercury Hermes Trismegistus Thoth by Giovanni da Bologna Mercury Hermes Trismegistus Thoth

Hermes by Giovanni da Bologna

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The Roman god Mercury was the Greek incarnation Hermes of the Egyptian god Thoth and the ancient Egyptian priest Hermes Trismegistus "The Thrice Greatest."  From Mercury we get "commerce" (with Mercury), and from Hermes we get "hermetic," meaning magical or alchemical. The Greeks believed him to be the messenger between the gods and mortals, as well as the god of merchants, trading and commerce, cheats and thieves, luck, music and eloquence, young men, and travelers and roads, the latter perhaps because of the planet’s rapid motion in the sky. Mercury also guided the recently dead to Hades.

The son of Zeus and the youngest of the Pleiades, Maia, he was a prankster and inventive genius from birth, and loved by all the gods. At five minutes old he stole his brother Apollo’s sacred cattle and put shoes on their feet backwards to make reversed prints. He sacrificed two of them and hid the rest in a cave. Then stretching cowhide around a turtle shell and the guts across it, he put two horns through the shell’s leg holes and created the lyre.

Apollo came searching for his cows, but no one knew where they had gone because of the ruse with the shoes. Discovering the theft and Hermes’ location by divination, Apollo went to his mother, Maia, who only pointed at the innocent babe in his cradle. Not deceived, Apollo took Hermes to Zeus for a judgment. Hermes at first denied his theft, but as no one believed him he was forced to give them back.

While all this was going on Apollo discovered the lyre that Hermes had invented, and wanted it so badly that he traded his contested cattle for it. While Hermes was pasturing his new herd, he made a shepherd’s pipe for himself that Apollo also desired. For this Apollo gave Hermes the art of divining by pebbles, as well as the golden wand with which he, Apollo, had herded cattle.

The golden wand was the caduceus, a staff of riches and wealth that protected Hermes from harm. Legend has it that when Hermes used the caduceus to separate two fighting snakes, they entwined themselves around the staff, becoming part of it and symbolizing peace. In ancient times heralds and ambassadors carried the caduceus symbolizing the office of the messenger of the gods to mark themselves with diplomatic immunity.

The staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, was entwined by a single snake and also called a caduceus. Asclepius was trained as a healer by the centaur, Chiron, becoming so skilled that he could bring back the dead. This in turn so angered Hades (Pluto), king of the dead, that he had Zeus kill him with a thunderbolt. Unfortunately for the medical profession, the two staffs are confused today.

Hermes was the father of many children including Autolycus, Odysseus’ grandfather and the king of thieves, Pan with Odysseus’ wife Penelope, and Cupid and Hermaphroditus (a son with both male and female organs) with Aphrodite.

This Mercury-Hermes-Trismegistus-Thoth page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.

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