The praise of Mercury as the Greek Hermes, god of eloquence (λόγιος, facundus), of athletics (ἐναγώνοις), messenger of the gods (διάκτορος), patron of thieves (κλέπτης), helper (ἐριούνοις), wielder of the golden wand and shepherd of the shades (χρυσόῤῥαπις ψυχοπομπός).On Greek gods in Horace, cf. Sellar, pp.161-162.
The Pleiads were daughters Qf Atlas, and 'of the eldest of those stars of spring—Maia . . . is born the shepherd of the clouds, wing-footed and deceiving,—blinding the eyes of Argus,- escaping from the grasp of Apollo,—restless messenger between the highest sky and topmost earth,—the herald Mercury, new lighted on a heaven-kissing hill' (Ruskin). Cf. Alcaeus, fr. 5, χαῖρε Κυλλάνας ὃ μέδεις σέ γὰρ μοι | θῦμος ὕμνην, τὸν κορυφαῖς ἐν αὐταῖς | Μαῖα γέννατο Κρονίδᾳ μίγεισα. Simon., fr. 18 (27); Eurip.Ion,1; Martial, 7. 74. 1; Ov. Fast. 5, 663.—facunde: as herald and interpreter of the gods.
feros cultus: cf. Tenn., 'These were the rough ways or the world till now.'—recentum: early, i.e. 'recent' from their origin.
voce: by (the gift of) language. Before the power of speech was granted them men were mutum et turpe pecus (Sat. 1. 3. 100).—catus: an archaic word, shrewdly.
decorae . . . palaestrae: the exercise made men comely.
parentem: cf. 'father of chemistry and cousin of the Earl of Cork.' Cf. on 1. 21. 11; 1. 32. 14; 3. 11. 3. According to the legend Hermes invented the lyre (by stretching four strings across a tortoise-shell which he had found) on the morning of the day of his birth; on the evening of the same day he stole fifty head of cattle from his brother Apollo. The fact that these two feats were performed on the same day makes their juxtaposition here natural enough.
callidum: with complementary inf. Cf. 3. 11. 4, and callet, 4. 9. 49; Epist. 1. 10. 26.—iocoso: μάλα ἡδεῖαι αἱ κλοπαὶ τοῦ θεοῦ (Philost. Imag. 1. 26).
condere: hide. furto: Eurip. (?) Rhesus, 217, φηλητῶν ἄναξ; Longfellow, Masque of Pandora, 'by thy winged cap | and winged heels I know thee. Thou art Hermes | captain of thieves.' Cf. Shelley's exquisitely funny version of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes.
Cf. Dobson, A Case of Cameos, 'Here great Apollo with unbended bow, | His quiver hard by on a laurel tree, | For some new theft was rating Mercury, | Who stood with down-cast eyes and feigned distress | As daring not for utter guiltiness, | To meet that angry voice and aspect joined. | His very heel-wings drooped; but yet not less | His backward hand the sun-god's shafts purloined.'—reddidisses: returned; the threat implied by minaci would be in the direct form nisi reddideris. Construe dum te puerum minaci voce terret nisi reddidisses. Dum terret is equivalent to a secondary tense for the sequence.
viduus: i.e. (to see himself) bereft of. Cf. Gk. Lex. s.v. χηρόω.
risit: had to laugh. Cf. 3. 11. 22.
quin et: nay, more; a rather prosaic transition. Cf. 2. 13. 37; 3. 11. 21. Priam's stealthy visit to the Greek camp by night, under the conduct of Hermes, to kiss the murderous hands of Achilles, and ransom the body of Hector, is told in one of the most touching episodes of the Iliad, 24. 159 sqq.—Atridas: Atreus' sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus.
Ilio . . . relicto: leaving Ilium behind.—dives: perhaps with special reference to the rich ransom he bore (Il. 24. 232).
Thessalos . . . ignis: the camp-fires of Achilles' troops, who came from Phthia in Thessaly.—iniqua: a metrically convenient word freely used by Horace in various shades of meaning; here hostile. Cf. 1. 2. 47; 2. 10. 4; 2. 4. 16; 2. 6. 9; 3. 1. 32.—Troiae: dat.
fefellit: passed unobserved.
reponis: bringest to their appointed place. For force of re, cf. 1. 3. 7; 1. 9. 6. But cf. Sen. Dial. 6. 19. 5, mors . . . quae nos in illam tranquillitatem in qua ante quam nasceremur iacuimus reponit. The idea then would be that pious ouls are restored to the Elysium from which they were taken at birth. Cf. Verg. Aen. 6. 756 sqq.
sedibus: abl.—virga: the caduceus, κηρύκειον, ῥαβδος (Hym. Herm. 529); 'The golden wand that causes sleep to fly | Or in soft slumber seals the wakeful eye; That drives the ghosts to realms of night or day, | Points out the long uncomfortable way' (Pope's Odyssey, 24. 1-4).—levem: unsubstantial, shadowy. Cf. Tenn. Demeter, 'flickering specters.'—coerces: as a shepherd his flock. Cf. 1. 24. 18.