Exegesis Volume 07 Issue #054

In This Issue:

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] deeper dimensions of Mercury (continued)

Exegesis Digest Mon, 15 Apr 2002

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] deeper dimensions of Mercury (continued)
Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2002 12:17:34 +1200

The ancient practice of identifying the gods with the stars survived in "the Greek poem *Phenomena* of Aratus (fourth century BCE), translated by Cicero (*De Natura Deorum* II, 15). This poem inspired numerous illustrated manuscripts, known as *Aratea*, from the Carolingian era onwards, which contributed to the identification of gods with stars, hence of Hermes to the planet Mercury."

The correlation of the mythistorical figure Trismegistus with Mercury in the Alexandrian era brought about "not only a euhemeristic process, but also a reverse euhemerism: Hermes Trismegistus is both the precipitation of Mercury into human history and the sublimation of history to Olympus. These fluctuations, or rather this twofold motion, favors a fluid genealogy and the presence of several Hermeses."

"The most classic genealogy, contrived in the Hellenistic era during the third or second century BCE, starts the Hermes series with Thoth, who carved his knowledge on stelae and concealed it. his son was Agathodemon, who himself begat a second Hermes, called Trismegistus.. According to the the traditions presented by Plutarch, Isis was the daughter of Hermes; while Cicero (*De Natura Deorum* III, 22) counts no fewer than five Mercuries: the son of Heaven and Day; the son of Valens and the nymph Phoronis; the son of the Third Jupiter and Maia; the son of Nilus, whom the Egyptians will not name; and lastly "Theyt", who slew Argus, says Cicero, and taught the Egyptians laws and writing. As for Saint Augustine, in the *City of God* he makes Trismegistus the great-grandson of a contemporary of Moses, and euhemerizes by regarding extraordinary human actions as the origin of Hermes and the other Greek gods."

In tribal societies where culture has mostly oral transmission, stories will emerge as myth on a pan-tribal basis if there is sufficient archetypal content to trigger resonance in the minds of listeners and thus impress them with profound meanings. This applies to any common recognition of both natural and social archetypes. However we can see in the above quote the end-result of bards and story-tellers' literary output: the accumulation of embellishments and flights of imagination customise the myth in each culture, leading eventually to the diversity of similar myths with the same gods and basic theme. Later generations may collate or conflate the various myths of their ancestors and those of bordering tribes. The many conquerings of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations prior to and during the classical era multiply this melding process into quite a stew. Finally, in the 1980s, publishing astrologers embark upon an extravaganza of explaining the planetary archetypes by means of the myths of the associated gods. The credibility problem that results is due to the banal over-simplification and selective reporting of the simplifications in the books of myth published earlier in the 20th century, which simplified those of the 19th century, which simplified whatever was left from the aforementioned `stew' after the mass destruction of the classical libraries by the Christians in the post-Alexandrian era (which was very little).

The discriminating reader will therefore be best advised to regard the historical relics I'm reporting as having curiosity value, and only evidence of something more profound if some noticeable internal resonance is felt while reading them. Ignore the variations in the myths, and pay attention to your internal detection of the resonance that is being caused by the recognition of any associated archetype. Cosmic wisdom can be conveyed by cultural artifacts, and is, but some internal recognition must be felt, and some interpretation process must then proceed, before such wisdom is articulated.

In the 14th century "Boccaccio sees Hermes as the interpreter of secrets and the dissolver of the clouds of the mind.. His book *De Genealogia Deorum*, which would henceforth serve as the obligatory reference work, is perhaps the best example of the borderline between Medieval and Renaissance mythology. Faithful to the spirit of his time, Boccaccio defends the idea that a poem of story always contains hidden meanings.. He has particular interest in the identification of each planet with a god or goddess: Boccaccio explains that the planet Mercury is characterized by its flexible nature, exhaustively describing its attributes which are naturally also those of the god. Boccaccio has five Mercurys: the Planet, the Physician, the Orator, the Trader, and the Thief."

"Up to the 12th century, astrological knowledge among Western clerics was virtually limited to Macrobius's *Commentarium in Sommium Scipionis* (commentary on the Dream of Scipio, circa 400 CE), the writings of Firmicus Maternus, and the Latin commentaries on the *Timaeus*. Then began the translation into Latin of numerous Arabic texts, and almost immediately, astrology began to enjoy unprecedented popularity. These translations, mostly made by Jews, supported an increasing level of interest which can be measured by the proliferation of calendars, almanacs, and *Prognostica*. In this burgeoning of astrological imagery, Mercury naturally held an important place. There are in particular two unprecedented types of image: first, the *melothesia*, which show the astrological signs, mainly those of the zodiac, distributed on the human body; second, planetary images representing the divinities attributed to each of the seven planets, whence the host of images of Mercury. These planetary allegories usually show the divinity in a chariot, above a group of figures known as his or her `children', hence the name `Children of the Planets' that is given to this widespread iconographical genre, of which many complete documents have survived to the present. In these drawings, the `children of Mercury' are persons who supposedly represent the human characteristics of this god; they are shown in series or in groups, presided over by Mercury, who rules them from his chariot at the top of the picture. His children have the attributes of musicians, conjurers, scribes, merchants, etc.: in other words, of all those traditionally placed under mercurial rulership."

At the beginning of the 14th century Dante "makes the planets correspond to the Seven Liberal Arts: Dialectic belongs to the sphere of Mercury, Grammar to that of the Moon, etc." An interesting allocation, regrettably truncated by the author. If Mercury is traditionally the provider of language skills, it is a complete nonsense to give grammar to the Moon. However, if it is Dante's priority to make Mercury the provider of dialectical reasoning, his scheme must then misallocate to produce a 1:1 correspondence between the two sets of seven. Mercury obviously rules both skills cited, and maybe others of the seven arts. The tendency of 20th century astrologer-authors to promote arbitrary correspondences between unrelated sets of phenomena is seen here to follow in an eminent literary tradition. If you wish to impress the gullible with such contrivances, irritating considerations such as truth and reality must be swept aside.

"In the second half of the 15th century, the gods were being reintegrated into their primitive form, which as one can see, was often modified in fantastic fashion. The Renaissance was, after all, more a period of synthesis than of resurrection." The Humanists saw in Hermes "the patron of the penetrating intellect of grammarians and metaphysicians, who, as Marsilio Ficino says, recall the mind to celestial things by the power of reason (*Opera*, p.1559)."

"Hermes-Mercury has probably never been more talked of than in the 16th century. Erasmus, in his *Adages*, gives us an inkling of this: commenting on the expression "Mercurius venit" (as one now says "an angel passed"), he alludes to the silence of reflection.. In his Praise of Folly (1509), he calls Mercury the inventor of tricks or of conjuring.. rather as Isidore of Seville did long before. But it is as *ratio* and *sermo* (`reason' and `speech') that Mercury enters many of these dictionaries, with the neat formula *quasi medius currens* ("as if running in the middle") serving to explain him etymologically. This is found in Johannes Balbus (*Catholicon*, 1490), Ambrosius Calepinus (*Dictionarium*, 1510), Georg Pistorius (*Theologia Mythologica*, 1532), Caelius Rhodoginus (*Lectionum Antiquarum Libri XII, 1517), Guillaume Bud .. For Bud , Hermes represents the very principle of Humanism, and as mediator he is paralleled with Jesus Christ. In Giovani Pontano's *Charon* (1491) and in his *Urania* (in *Opera*, 1505), Mercury gives his opinions concerning ecclesiastical and theological matters; he evinces a great erudition and speaks about his own reception in the literature of the Renaissance! For Bonaventure des P riers (*Cymbalum Mundi*, 1537), Hermes is now a guide of the dead, now a thief, now an alchemist - or an expert in rhetoric."

The notion of "Mercury the inventor of tricks or of conjuring" seems a misallocation, but it must be noted that the trickster as a social archetype has emerged separately in a variety of tribal contexts. Perhaps there is a difference between the playing of tricks and their invention, and one could rationalise Mercury as being the reasoning or genius that designs the trick.

More substantial is the attribute of mediator, and the notion "as if running in the middle". These days we mostly see the mediating function in relation to conflict between opponents, and an archetypal function is immediately evident here, of which more later. Here's the hint of a general principle: Mercury performs it's function in the middle, between two realms or domains.

"Giordano Bruno often identifies himself with Mercury, the messenger sent by the Gods in order to reinstate truth" when it has been corrupted. Mercury appears as a messenger in a 1532 work by Charles Boudign . In another French book, *Illustrations de Gaule* by Jean Lemaire (1512), each of the three parts opens with a prologue `spoken' by Hermes. In this work "he appears as the "erstwhile famous god of eloquence, ingenuity and fine invention, herald and spokesman of the gods", and the role he plays there follows the traditional allegory: "Mercury signifies the word, by means of which every doctrine is addressed and conveyed to our understanding [*entendement*]." This last word should be read to mean `clarity', for Hermes rules "all noble and clear understandings of both sexes, which are the Mercurian bond, and who love good reading. Jean Lemaire reinterprets the traditional Mercurian allegory by giving it a sense that was new in the 16th century, taken from Lucian's *Charon*: Hermes opens the eyes of his companion Charon, allowing him a greater vista over the theatre of the world. Already in Boccaccio, *claritas* figured among his attributes, but also flexibility. Jean Lemaire also echoes Boccaccio when he speaks of the "noble God Mercury whose planet is neutral and indifferent"..."

Relating this notion of enhanced clarity of perception to the mediating function, we may theorise that Mercury brings insight into relations between things in the world that are not immediately obvious and/or are not learnt in normal social life and education processes. As mediator mid-way between two realms that had hitherto seemed unrelated, Mercury brings to our attention and forges a comprehensible connection between them. Access to a "greater vista over the theatre of the world", a more comprehensive overview that endows comprehension of underlying dynamics, seems to be the result.

(to be continued...)

Dennis Frank


End of exegesis Digest V7 #54

[Exegesis Top][Table of Contents][Prior Issue][Next Issue]

Unless otherwise indicated, articles and submissions above are copyright © 1996-1999 their respective authors.