The Rod was given to Mercury by Apollo, and had the wonderful faculty of deciding all controversies and conferring irresistible eloquence on its owner. Its efficacy was proved, when one day whilst travelling Mercury came upon two serpents fighting, and by placing his rod between them and exercising his eloquence, he immediately reconciled the combatants. Mutually embracing they became attached to the rod, thus forming the Caduceus. Mercury received his name from his shrewd understanding of merchandise; he was the inventor of contracts, weights and measures, and of the arts of buying and selling; for this reason he was regarded as the patron of Merchants and Traders.
He invented letters, excelled in eloquence, and was so skilful in making peace, that he is said to have pacified not only men but the immortal gods of Heaven and Hell, whose quarrels he adjusted; for this reason he was known by the Greeks as Hermes. In its composition the Pine Cone, which surmounts the staff, was credited with great health-giving powers; is a symbol of Apollo, or the Sun; the wings are emblematic of the flight of thoughts in the minds of men, the two serpents in amity signifying love prototypes of Aescu-lapius and Hygiea who influence the health-giving attributes of the Sun and Moon respectively, both deities being associated with serpents because by their aid maladies are sloughed off and vigour renewed, just as serpents were believed to renew their lives each year by casting their skins.
With the Romans the Serpent was a household god, and Livy records that, by the advice of the Delphic Oracle, the bringing of a sacred serpent from the temple of Aesculapius to Rome immediately stayed the pestilence then raging. The wearing of a ring in the form of a serpent coiled round the finger, signified an invocation to the God of Health for preservation from sickness. Health rings were much in vogue amongst the Ancient Romans, who frequently presented their friends with such tokens on their birthdays, these anniversaries being considered the most important festivals. A favourite device was an intaglio cut in the ring itself, portraying the head of a youth, and the word "Vivas" (Mayst thou live). It was also believed that a Boar's Head engraved upon a ring conferred perpetual health and preservation from danger (the Boar being sacred to Demeter); whilst a ring engraved with three Ravens was worn for conjugal fidelity. Another device was that of a human head attached to an elephant's trunk, holding a trident (the symbol of Neptune), which was worn as a protective charm against peril by sea. Charmed rings have also been much in favour with many nations, the Greeks being very partial to enchanted rings, which were made according to the favourable positions of the planets, their power being strengthened when the head and neck of the owner was cut in green jasper and set in a ring engraved with the letters B.B.P.P.N.E.N.A., which signified "Wear this and thou shalt in no wise perish." Whether hallowed in the name of God or consecrated by the touch of the Pope, or of Royal personages, the ring has ever been the chosen Talisman through which Health, Wealth, and Love was transmitted to its wearer.