Mercury, Or Hermes, an ancient deity of the Greeks and Romans. According to the Greek legend, he was a son of Jupiter and Maia, a daughter of Atlas. He was born in a cave of Mt. Cyllene, in Arcadia, whence his epithet Cyllenian. Soon after his birth, escaping from his cradle, he went to Pieria, and stole several of Apollo's oxen, which he drove to Pylos, where he slaughtered two for a banquet and sacrifice, and concealed the rest. On returning to Cyllene, he found a tortoise at the entrance of his cave, of whose shell and some of the ox intestines he constructed the first lyre. Apollo, knowing who had stolen his cattle, went to Cyllene to demand restitution; and when Mercury denied the theft he took him before Jupiter, who obliged him to confess. But when Apollo heard Mercury perform on the lyre, he was so delighted that he permitted the young musician to retain the cattle, and presented to him his golden caduce-us or pastoral staff, teaching him at the same tune the art of prophesying with dice. Jupi-cr appointed him herald general of the gods, in which capacity he was frequently the medium of communication between mortals and immortals. It was he who conducted Priam to Achilles, when the venerable monarch went to beg the body of [lector from his conqueror.
He bound Ixion to the wheel for boasting of intimacy with Juno, chained Prometheus to the Caucasus, and escorted Juno, Venus, and Minerva to Mt.Ida to submit their charms to the judgment of Paris. Mercury was esteemed the author of various inventions, and the origin of letters, numbers, astronomy, music, military tactics, gymnastics, weights, and measures was ascribed to him. He was also regarded as the god of eloquence, the presiding deity of the gymnasia, and the patron of fraud and perjury. The original seat of his worship was Arcadia, whence it gradually spread over the Grecian world. His festivals were called Ilermaia. The most celebrated of his temples was that on Mt. Cyllene. The principal things sacred to him were the palm tree and the tortoise. He is generally represented as a young man with a broad-brimmed hat adorned with wings, in his right hand a herald's staff or a sceptre, and on his feet a pair of winged sandals. - In Rome, Mercury was the god of commerce and diplomacy. The etyma of his name, merx and curius, clearly indicate his predominant function.
A temple was raised to him in Rome near the Circus Maximus as early as 495 B. C, and an altar of his stood contiguous to the Porta Capena. Under the cognomen of Malevolus, or the "ill-disposed," he had a statue in the vicus sobrius, or Sober street, in which no wine shops were allowed to be kept, and there milk was the sole beverage offered to him. This statue held a purse in one of its hands as a symbol of his commercial functions. The festival of Mercury was celebrated on the 25th of May, which was regarded as a high day by the Roman merchants. After the various relations of Greece and Rome had become intimate, the Hermes of the former and the Mercurius of the latter were popularly considered identical, though the resemblance between the two divinities was very slight, and was never admitted by the fetiales, or guardians of the public faith of Rome.