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Saturdays are perfect days for pleasant surprises. Surprise—we’re talking about Mercury today!
The smallest true planet in our Solar System has the inside track in the race around the sun and completes a full orbit in just 88 Earth days, faster than any of its peers. No wonder this little gem is named for a Roman god of speed. Behold Mercury!
The original Mercury, meaning the divine one, was one of the twelve major deities of the Roman pantheon. Mercury’s speed came in handy, as he kept extremely busy as the messenger of the gods, the guide of souls to the underworld, and patron of thieves, merchants, travelers, boundaries, and luck. Like most deities in the ancient world, Mercury served the same role as the Greek Hermes and Etruscan Turms, all of whom rocked the same iconic winged helmet.
The peripatetic psychopomp of the gods not only shares his name with a fast planet but a fast metal as well. Mercury (also known as quicksilver) is a metallic element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80, the only metal, in fact, known to be liquid at ordinary temperatures and pressure.
The name Mercury is connected to the root MERC- meaning trade or market in words like merchandise, mercantile, and mercenary. Other words derive more directly from the name of the fleet trickster god, most importantly mercurial:
mercurial (adj) - liable to sudden unpredictable change; fickle, capricious
mercuric (adj) - of, relating to, or containing mercury
Mercurian (noun) - a palmistry term for someone one with a well-developed Mount of Mercury, often characterized by shrewdness and quickness
“Learning is like mercury, one of the most powerful and excellent things in the world in skillful hands; in unskillful, the most mischievous.” —Alexander Pope