Friday, 29 April 2005

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II)

It has come to my attention that there has been some confusion about my non de guerre, Mercurie. A blog I ran onto a few weeks ago apparently thought the name was feminine, as the author insisted on referring to me as "she." A lovely, young ladyfriend of mine (the same one who hit a cow) thought it was simply a mispelling of modern English Mercury (she is at least partially right, as I am about to explain). For those of you who are wondering, Mercurie is the Middle English/early modern English version of Mercury. It entered the language via Old French (brought to England by the Normans), which in turn stems from Latin Mercurius. Of course, Mercurius is the Latin name for the Roman god we call Mercury, the Roman god who governs trade, commerce, money making, and mediation, among other things. He was identified with the Greek god Hermes from an early time and is often depicted in the same way: wearing a winged helmet and winged sandals, and bearing a cadeseus (sort of a winged staff).

The god Mercurie (or Mercury, if you prefer) is referenced in a good many Middle English sources, chief among them Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Below are a few quotes mentioning Mercurie:

The children of Mercurie and Venus
Been in hir wirkyng ful contrarius,
Mercurie loveth wysdam and science,
And Venus loveth ryot and dispence.
And for hire diverse disposicioun
Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun,
And thus, God woot, Mercurie is desolat
In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat;
And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed.

The children of Mercury and Venus
are contrary in their lives.
Mercury loves wisdom and science,
and Venus loves pleasure and expense.
And for their diverse dispositons
each falls when the other is ascendant,
and God knows, Mercurie is desloate
in Pisces, when Venus is exalted,
and Venus falls when Mercury rises.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Wife of Bath's Prologue," The Canterbury Tales)

Hoold thou thy pees, thou poete Marcian,
That writest us that ilke weddyng murie
Of hire Philologie and hym Mercurie,
And of the songes that the Muses songe!

Hold your peace, you poet Marcian,
who writes of theat merry wedding
of Philology and Mercury,
and of the songs that the Muses sing.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Merchant's Tale," The Canterbury Tales)

Upon a nyght in sleep as he hym leyde,
Hym thoughte how that the wynged god Mercurie
Biforn hym stood, and bad hym to be murie.
His slepy yerde in hond he bar uprighte,
An hat he werede upon hise heris brighte.
Arrayed was this god, as he took keep,
As he was whan that Argus took his sleep;
And seyde hym thus, "To Atthenes shaltou wende,
Ther is thee shapen of thy wo an ende."

Upon a night as in sleep he lay,
he thought how the winged god Mercury
stood before him, and bad him to be merry.
His sleep givng wand in hand he bore upright,
a hat he wore upon his hair bright.
Arayed was this god, as he took keep,
as he was when Argus took his sleep,
and said to him, "To Athens shall you go,
There will become an end to your woe."
(Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," The Canterbury Tales)

Of course, the spelling of the name as Mercurie lasted into early modern English, so that the name Mercury is spelled Mercurie even in Shakespeare. Again, here are more quotes:

"The words of Mercurie, are harsh after the songs of Apollo...." (William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost Act V, Scene II)

My Father nam'd me Autolicus, who being (as I am) lytter'd under Mercurie, was likewise a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.... (Wiliam Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act IV, Scene III)

Look here upon this Picture, and on this,
The counterfet presentment of two Brothers:
See what a grace was seated on his Brow,
Hyperions curls, the front of Iove himself,
An eye like Mars, to threaten or command
A Station, like the Herald Mercurie
New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill:
A Combination, and a form indeed,
Where every God did seem to set his Seal,
To give the world assurance of a man.
(Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4)

You are for dreams and slumbers, brother priest; You fur your gloves with reason. Here are your reasons: You know an enemy intends you harm; You know a sword employ'd is perilous, And reason flies the object of all harm. Who marvels, then, when Helenus beholds A Grecian and his sword, if he do set The very wings of reason to his heels And fly like chidden Mercurie from Jove, Or like a star disorb'd? Nay, if we talk of reason, Let's shut our gates and sleep. Manhood and honour Should have hare hearts, would they but fat their thoughts With this cramm'd reason. Reason and respect Make livers pale and lustihood deject. (William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act II, Scene II)

Is leaden servitor to dull delay: Delay leads impotent and snail-pac’d beggary: Then fiery expedition be my wing, Jove's Mercurie, and herald for a king! Go, muster men: my counsel is my shield; We must be brief when traitors brave the field (William Shakespeare, Richard the Third, Act IV, Scene III)

As to why I chose the name Mercurie, that is simple. I have always had an affinity for the god know among the Norse (often erroneously called "the Vikings"--"Viking" is a word for a profession, not an ethnicity....) as Odhinn and among the Anglo-Saxons as Woden, In the interpretation Romana, Woden was identified with Mercurius. Since the name of Mercurius in every moden English language was taken, as well as Latin Mercurius, I settled upon the Middle English version--Mercurie. There are times being a student of the Engilsh language comes in useful! Anyhow, for those who are wondering, that is the explanation behind my nom de plume and the reason why I adopted it.

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