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“Gods & Goddesses” Revealed: Mercury & Apollo

If the portraits in “Everyday Gods & Goddesses” seem almost alive — if you think you see their eyes wink as you turn your head, and you wonder if they visit each other, Harry Potter-style, at night — well, that’s just your imagination. But these paintings do have stories, both ancient and modern, behind the canvas. Today’s tale: Mercury & Apollo.

Mercury and My Apollo by Linda Lawler.
Mercury and My Apollo by Linda Lawler.

“My Apollo is a straight shooter who also can tell no lie. He is definitely the center of my universe.” — Linda Lawler, placard for My Apollo

The story of Apollo and the young Mercury is one of theft, deceit, a very busy infant, and friendship. It has a happy ending (for everyone except the tortoise).

Mercury, the wing-footed messenger god, was born one day in the morning, and — precocious at an hour old — ventures out of his cave to commit mischief. He stumbles over an unlucky tortoise, whose shell he makes into the first lyre.

(Linda Lawler’s Mercury, modeled after the marathon runner Craig, is an older, more animal-friendly version. Craig also modeled for Poseidon.)

Fresh off this accomplishment, the baby Mercury spies a herd of cattle, grazing in the field, and steals them. Unfortunately, the herd belongs to his half-brother Apollo — sun god, archer, truth-teller, and musician. Unlike Mercury, Apollo wasn’t born yesterday, and he soon tracks down Mercury in his cave.

This is usually the point at which a lifelong feud erupts and a few mortal bystanders get caught up in the mayhem. But Mercury, charmer that he is, smooths the whole thing over with a ditty on his new lyre.

“Slayer of oxen, trickster, busy one, comrade of the feast: this song of yours is worth fifty cows!” — Apollo (Homeric Hymn to Hermes)

And with the gift of the lyre, these two would-be enemies become immortal pals.

If you’re wondering where Apollo got that laurel wreath, you can read that story at the Getty’s website here.

“Everyday Gods & Goddesses” is open through Monday, May 6.

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