And that can send us out of this world.
When Peggy’s bronchitis was at a low point about ten days ago we thought it best to take her temperature. I had to search for the thermometer which we hadn’t used for at least twenty years. It was that old-fashioned type. After a few minutes of twisting and turning the mercury was still elusive and seemed to be stuck around 98 degrees before and after a few minutes under her tongue. I didn’t trust it and went out and bought a new digital one bringing me into this century.
I started thinking about that strange element, mercury, which I probably played with as a kid rolling the glob around, not knowing better. Quicksilver was the common name. It was quick and it was silver. Was it liquid or solid or both?
Before antibiotics or sulfa drugs mercury was used to treat all sorts of infections from syphilis to malaria. It was a favorite of alchemists who turned quicksilver into quick death. A corpse or two never stopped them. Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a great believer. His mercury panacea, Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills, was so toxic it poisoned and partially destroyed whatever organ it touched. He gained fame by fighting off a Yellow Fever epidemic. Bodies reacted by purging it along with our partially poisoned entrails. Lewis and Clark packed six hundred Rush’s laxative pills with their gear while exploring the western territory. Sam Kean in his book, The Disappearing Spoon, tells how traces of the stuff can still be found which tell us where William and Meriwether built their campfires. Lewis died shortly after their return from an apparent suicide possibly with effects of that slippery substance. Mercury took its toll.
At one time hat manufacturers used a mercurous compound in the separation of fur from pelts. Hence the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland. The stories of mercury take us to a land of wonder. As the vet said to the cat-owner, I’m afraid it’s terminal. She has a case of curiosity. Kids and cats can die from it. Fortunately my curiosity stopped short of getting enough of that wonderful stuff spilling out of broken thermometers.
The Romans renamed Hermes, Mercury just as Zeus became Jupiter. Mercury gave us the words merchant, merchandise and mercantile. Hermes/Mercury, with his winged feet, was the messenger whose swift delivery corresponded with its rapid orbit closest to the sun (Apollo). Its elliptical itinerary is speedy but its spin is slow and the ancients mistook it for a sudden reversal of its west to east orbit. Actually it is just zipping around the sun at a faster speed than Earth giving the illusion of going backwards. Hence the notion, dear to astrologers, that Mercury is in retrograde 3-4 times a year. In Greco-Roman society Mercury, the demigod, reigned over communication, commerce and travel. He even escorted the dead to Hades and some of us living to an optical illusion.
It explains everything……if you are a believer. The missed flight, the bad phone connection, the overdue library book. Everything except a random universe and why quicksilver results in quick slivers when ingested. That glob of spilled mercury became a small planet, inhospitable to us earthlings and a trouble-maker as a nostrum for centuries. If anything is in retrograde it is America since Donald took office.