Mercurius in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
a Roman divinity of commerce and gain, probably one of the
dii lucrii. The character of the god is clear from his name,
which is connected with merx and mercari. (Paul. Diac. p.
124, ed. Müller; Schol. ad Pers. Sat. 5.112.) A temple was
built to him as early as B. C. 495 (Liv. 2.21, 27; Ov. Fast.
5.669), near the Circus Maximus (P. Vict. Reg. Urb. xi.);
and an altar of the god existed near the Porta Capena, by
the side of a well; and in later times a temple seems to
have been built on the same spot. (Ov. Fast. 5.673; P. Vict.
Reg. Urb. i.) Under the name of the ill-willed (malevolus),
he had a statue in what was called the vices sobrius, or the
sober street, in which no shops were allowed to be kept, and
milk was offered to him there instead of wine. (Fest. pp.
161, 297, ed. Miller.) This statue had a purse in its hand,
to indicate his functions. (Schol. ad Pers. l.c.) His
festival was celebrated on the 25th of May, and chiefly by
merchants, who also visited the well near the Porta Capena,
to which magic powers were ascribed; and with water from
that well they used to sprinkle themselves and their
merchandise, that they might be purified, and yield a large
profit. (Ov. Fast. v. 670 &c.; Fest. p. 148, ed. Müller.)
The Romans of later times identified Mercurius, the patron
of merchants and tradespeople, with the Greek Hermes, and
transferred all the attributes and myths of the latter to
the former (Hor. Carm. 1.10), although the Fetiales never
recognised the identity; and instead of the caduceus used a
sacred branch as the emblem of peace. The resemblance
between Mercurius and Hermes is indeed very slight; and
their identification is a proof of the thoughtless manner in
which the Romans acted in this respect. [Comp. HERMES.] - A
Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology,
William Smith, Ed.