27 July 2008

Mercury and Battus

The story goes that Mercury stole Apollo's cattle, but was seen by an old man called Battus. Mercury bribed the old man to keep quiet with the present of a heifer. Battus said the stones would give Mercury away sooner than he would, but Mercury didn't trust him and approached him again in disguise. On being offered a bribe of two head of cattle, Battus gave the game away, and for his treachery was turned into a stone by Mercury. You can read Ovid's version of the story in Tony Kline's translation or in Derik Badman's strip cartoon version.

Artists who have painted Mercury and Battus include Jacob Pynas (1618), Francisque Millet (no date given for the picture but the artist's dates are 1642-1649) in a picture now in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Claude Lorrain (the only online version of the painting I could find was on this auction site -- picture undated, artist's dates 1600 - 1680). An even more obscure artist was Jan Claudius de Cock (1667 - 1735), the only copy of whose Mercury and Battus (no date or location of the painting given) was on this Dutch site with bilingual Dutch and English text (scroll down).

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