Category: Mercury

Mercury Post

Response Paper 3


Mercury exists in many forms with occasional clear relations between each. The planet, the element, the musical composition and the god all move with great speed. There are other connections that only bridge between a few versions of Mercury, such as the deadliness of the planet and the element, with the former’s lack of atmosphere and supremely hot temperatures and the latter’s extreme toxicity. Perhaps the last connection between these versions of Mercury would be the communicative power of the god and the composition by Holst. These connections, strong or weak, all build towards depth and meaning of the concept of Mercury in all his forms.

Assuming that the interpretatio Romana combined not just the physical traits, but also the totality of the Greek god Hermes, Mercury was a god with a varying personality and purposes. Not only was he the well-known Messenger of the Gods, relaying directives to mortals and immortals alike, but he was also the Psychopomp of the classical world, the deliverer of the dead to the underworld. Mercury was not simply gifted in delivery though, he took many roles as expressed in the anonymously written Homeric Hymn to Hermes “(Hermes is) blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods.” Mercury’s speed and erraticism become apparent when his duties and activities are compared at once. Mercury was also the god of commerce, which makes even more sense today, as the economy of the world is built of speed and efficiency and which appears, at least to me, to be very chaotic. Lastly, Mercury was associated with health, typically represented by his carrying of the Caduceus, a staff with intertwining snakes along the shaft. This relation to health has had ironically negative outcomes.

Mercury, the element, is one of the most poisonous substances on Earth and has led to the sickness and death of countless people over the span of thousands of years through industrial means as well as ill-informed medical uses. In ancient times, the relation between the element and the god led practitioners of medicine to prescribe mercury as a topical remedy for bodily injuries and ailments as well as an internal remedy for illnesses. The 2nd century Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang was obsessed with immortality and understanding the “medical power” of mercury ingested many mercury pills in an attempt to evade death. As you would expect, these pills had the opposite effect and ended his life prematurely. So goes the idea of Mercury as the embodiment of health! The element is also known as quicksilver, due to its fast moving liquid state and silvery appearance, which I can’t help but relate to Mercury the god for he too was fast moving, and though it is a modern understanding of speed, I always think of silvery, shiny rockets as being the epitome of speed.

Mercury the planet has the least connection to the other forms of Mercury, be it god, song or substance. The planet is unbelievably fast though, which may be the attribute of greatest importance connected with the rest. The speed in which Mercury flies around the sun, which is just about 130,000 miles per hour and thus slightly less than twice as fast as Earth’s orbital speed, makes for a year that lasts only 88 Earth days. If I were to have magically been born on Mercury, I would already be 108 years old! An interesting aspect of Mercury’s rotation in regards to its orbit is that due to tidal connections, the planet only rotates one and a half times per orbit, or in terms of days, it would be one full day of sun and night every two years. The remaining characteristics of the planet have little or nothing to do with the rest of our subjects. The planet has a dense metal core that produces a small magnetic field, which baffles scientists, as the observable facts of Mercury’s physical form should point to either a strong magnetic field or none at all. It has no atmosphere, as it is too small and too close to the sun, which means that the surface now only changes due to impacts from small meteorites. In Mercury’s past, ridges and faults on the surface were created by rapid cooling, which contracted the surface and by the tidal pressure from the sun, which pulled the surface into shape. Finally, Mercury is a planet of extreme temperature difference with highs near 600 degrees Fahrenheit on the side facing the sun, and lows of -280 degrees Fahrenheit on the side away from the sun. I suppose there could be some connection made between the distinctive nature of the planet and the element as the element has a freezing point of -39 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point of 675 degrees Fahrenheit, but it seems a stretch.

Mercury, the composition by Holst, is beautifully linked to both the god and the planet. It is quickly paced, sometimes chaotic and surprising as well as sounding hopeful and energetic. The flitting, ever-changing nature of the piece emphasizes the god’s movements on Earth as he bounds from one duty to the next. One can almost see Mercury descending from the sky on a brightly lit day bearing a message from Olympus. There is once section of the piece where the volume and tempo increases intensely, only to drop away moments later, which paints the image of the orbiting planet, zooming into focus just to shoot around the sun again on its speedy journey. In contrast, there are moments where the music seems to stumble and halt, almost as if poor Mercury was not watching his path and collided with a temple or mountain.

These four forms of Mercury illuminate the characteristics of a fascinating god, a poisonous metal, a speedy planetary neighbor and a robust musical composition. I feel there may not again be such a complementary fusion between such different subjects, though again, Holst has nailed down in musical form the essence of an incredible character. The richness of his music speaks volumes on his subjects if given the right context, but even without, his pieces still resonate on deep, emotional levels.


CHID 496

7 February 2011


For the most part, the movement Mercury is a pithy light-hearted piece of music.  Although some sober moments do occur, they exist fleetingly for a few seconds, or are underlined by a somewhat cartoonish woodwinds section.  But this fits with the traditional character of the Roman god Mercury.

Mercury, as a messenger, was privy to the important goings on of sweet Venus, violent Mars, and scheming Pluto.  But the god himself has virtually no impact on events whatsoever.  The character of Mercury allowed the messenger to witness the greatest and saddest events, and yet continue on unphased.  Holst must have envisioned Mercury as something like an idealized child who cannot be penetrated by the gravity of any action.  The piece itself is short and cannot sit still.  Holst addresses and acknowledges more serious themes, particularly with the first violin solo around 1:05, and again at 2:00 where the energy recedes, but in both instances, the effect is quickly over.  Holst soon brings in the rest of the orchestra with a jumping and staccato accompaniment, or mutates the theme into some swirling and unrestrained figure.

However, I am surprised at the lack of correspondence between the music and its physical counterpart.  The violence of the movement Mars captured the planet’s exaggerated features.  Even the clouds of Venus were fairly represented by sweet and fragile strains.  But the only quality of the planet Mercury which I feel was intentionally reproduced by the music was the planet’s swiftness of rotation around the sun.  Knowing about the planet’s absolutely desolate and lifeless nature, I find it difficult to accept Holst’s music as a representation of the planet.  The planet is almost solid iron, it is ugly to behold, and it strikes me as sterile.  The planet is so without internal movement that a collision on one side will vibrate the whole planet, creating geological features on the opposing side.  I imagine the planet ringing like a bell or some other instrument.

Were I to compose a modern rendition of Mercury, I would make the music mechanical and mathematical, eliminating as many organic qualities as possible.  Mercury would then seem something like an automaton, moving along and performing its duty without any life or soul.  But I realize that my musical interpretation of the planet is extremely biased thanks to the benefit of astronomical data unavailable to Holst.


CHID 496 Mercury Response Paper


Gustav Holst’s music has shown tendencies to be based upon the planets symbolism. The knowledge known of today may have changed the way Holst composed his music, but still does an excellent job at capturing the essence of each planet. His piece on Mercury is quick, fast-paced, uses strings and bell sounds. Mercury, the winged messenger, is characteristically known for its small size, stature, and nimble fast speed, which in course is a very relativistic description and portrayal of the material planet itself. Holst’s piece on Mercury lasts for a mere 4 minutes and 9 seconds, interesting how the piece itself is short and quick, the strings give off a sense of urgency and quickness, and the planet itself is small and quick as well.

Mercury is most similar to Earth’s moon. Their rotation has been altered by tides, their surfaces are heavily cratered, their lowlands are flooded in places by ancient lava flows and they are both small, ancient and have ancient inactive surfaces. The temperatures on Mercury are extreme; given Mercury has no atmosphere and is very close to the sun, its surface temperatures can go from 330 degrees Celsius during the day from -173 degrees Celsius at night. Mercury rotates very quickly around the sun but itself spins quite slow. A full day on Mercury is two Mercury years long, Mercury rotates around the sun twice before itself fully rotates. Evidence also suggests that Mercury has a large metallic core, but due to its weak magnetic field, its hard to say.

Mercury Post

Response paper #3 Mercury



The geological feature on Mercury which intrigues me most is the scarps which were caused by the core of the planet shrinking as it cooled. The idea of a planet doing something like this, as compared to a rotting apple skin which wrinkles as the flesh beneath it shrinks down, is fascinating. It gives me a different idea of planets than I had before.  Also intriguing about Mercury the planet is the idea that it possibly once used to be much larger, but was reduced due to a large impact, now seen as the Caloris Basin, which likely happened during the period of Heavy Bombardment. Also fascinating is the fact that it still has a magnetic field despite the core being so small and presumably having a solid, rather than molten core (due to this size and cooling factor with having no atmosphere). This would seem to say that in fact, the core is NOT solid, but is still molten. But why and how? Perhaps due to tidal effects?

The fact that this planet goes along with the winged messenger Mercury seems somewhat inappropriate. It rotates very slowly (at least compared to Earth), so it is not at all quick as he is. However, in that things can be described as “mercurial” when they are odd, flighty, or capable of unpredictable mood-swings or instability, the orbit of the planet Mercury could be considered fitting because it has a very eccentric orbit. The fact that it has a resonance with the Sun also helps in making the temperatures on the planet fluctuate drastically, which again, could go with the idea of mercurial as we use it as an adjective.

The music which Holst composed for Mercury is more fitting, again, with the namesake than the planet itself. The flightiness of the messenger is evident in the flute trills. The almost plucked sound of the rhythm keeps up an image in my head of a bird flitting around through the clouds, which could easily be replaced with a human-shaped messenger with wings on his shoes. This piece is much shorter than the other two we’ve heard so far, which could have something to do with the idea of quickness or brevity that goes along with the messenger of the gods. However, the music doesn’t seem to travel anywhere. Is this saying something about Mercury’s delivery skills?

Week 5: Mercury, the Winged Messenger

When first listening to Holst’s Mercury it is difficult not to see the unique relationship between the tempo of the music and the planet’s orbit.  Mercury travels at about 128,000 miles per hour and the tempo can be described as vivace, around 140 beats per minute. Speed alone, is one of the main aspects that tie together the science, music and mythology of collective Mercury.

Mercury, the winged messenger or Hermes (in Greek mythology) is known as the winged messenger as well as the inventor of many sports.  He is known inventing many types of racing, wrestling and boxing and was thus known as the patron to athletes.  At his birthplace, known as the base of Mount Cyllene, a cult who worshipped Hermes would put on a festival called Hermaea, where multiple athletic competitions took place.  Interestingly, he escorted the deceased to Hades in the underworld and was the son of Zeus.  Overall, Mercury is known for being a particularly fast and obedient G-d.

The music Holst created to personify Mercury is chillingly similar to the perceived personality of Mercury.  Much of the piece’s mood can be described as scherzando, meaning the composition is fast moving yet at some places playful like leggiero.  The broken chords give some visualization of runners darting out from the start line and the competition restless until the end of the piece.   At some point in the class, it was mentioned to us that Mercury’s orbit was somehow related to its tempo with amazing accuracy.  I find it incredible that Holst manage to emulate such an appropriate tempo for this mysterious planet.

The planet itself is very interesting, from its drastic temperature changes to its moon like attributes and very fast orbit around the sun.  Mercury is the second to smallest planet known in our solar system with many attributes similar to the moon orbiting Earth.  Mercury’s surface has many craters and mare-like plains, and is thought to be a nearly dead planet.  An interesting parallel between Mercury’s temperature and mythology is the concept of extremes.  Mercury is able to get as a high as 600K (330⁰C) and as low as 100K (-173⁰C).  Mercury, or Hermes in Greek mythology, was known for spending time in the underworld, interpreted as cold, scary and dark as well as on Mt. Olympus, interpreted as warm, enlightening and bright.  During portions of the orbit Mercury will be very hot or very cold and some in between.  Though the music does not quite tie into this curious parallel, it is definitely apparent when analyzing the planet and the mythology.  Again the speed of Mercury’s orbit relates to the mythological aspect as well as the musical, all are fast.

In all, Holst was yet again able to recreate a musical embodiment of Mercury, the Winged Messenger.  The light playful melodic tempo reflects the uppity nature of Mercury’s position in space and on Mount Olympus.  Though the music did not quite capture the interesting temperature increases and decreases it still managed to achieve one the impossible aspects of the planet’s orbit; its speed.  For Holst’s time, it would have been nearly impossible for him to know this fascinating unifying concept of collective Mercury, but somehow he managed to completely incarnate it to music.  Overall, I loved it.

Mercury: The Winged Messenger


The music and reading for Mercury were both quite dry and un-interesting compared to Mars and Venus.  It seems as though even less is known about Mercury than Venus, and the fact that it is more comparable to the moon than it is to Earth makes it less appealing.  There was not much to the article, suggesting that Mercury is a lowly planet at the bottom of the totem pole.  It is small, its temperatures are extreme, and it is mysterious.  Everything that is known about Mercury is unexplainable, including it metallic core and its formation.  Without something to compare it to, it is hard to know much about the planet other than assumptions and hypotheses, which could just as easily correct or wrong.  Hopefully more information can be obtained about this strange planet when the Messenger spacecraft is able to attain orbit around the planet sometime this year.  However, this will only provide a means to map the planet, when what is really needed is for spacecraft to land on the planet and send samples back to Earth that will shed a small light onto the mystery that is Mercury.

Gustav Holst’s piece for Mercury was light and jumpy, and I could easily picture a “winged messenger” darting around from place to place.  The music was steady without many sudden key changes or abrupt changes in tempo.  The one drawback would have to be the constant sharp note that I heard just before the minute mark (which may have just been my computer; I could not tell).  Regardless, it was out of place with the rest of the music and made me want to stop listening for just a few seconds.  Despite that, this was my favorite planet piece so far because it is a lot cheerier and a lot simpler than the other pieces.  It is easy to understand what Holst was trying to accomplish when writing the piece-that Mercury is quick and fleeting.