Nicolas Poussin: "The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs of
Nysa; The Death of Echo and Narcissus" (1657). The painting shows Mercury delivering the newly born baby Bacchus to Ino.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of the Fogg Art Museum. Gift of Mrs. Samuel Sachs in memory of Mr. Samuel Sachs. To be reproduced only by permission of the Harvard University Art Museums. (c) President and Fellows of Harvard College, Harvard University Art Museums.
Mercury and the Birth of Bacchus
Mercury was the
prankster of the gods. And yet, in spite of his pranks, he won the affection of all
gods because of his playfulness, innocence, and helpfulness. He was particularly
his father, and became his official messenger and trusted aide.
It was Mercury who drove the herd of Agenor, with Jupiter disguised as
a bull mingled in with them, towards the Princess Europa
on the Phoenician shores of the Mediterranean. It
was Mercury who lulled Argos to sleep, then slew him
and freed Io.
Mercury came again to the aide of his father on the occasion of the
birth of Bacchus, god of wine. Now Semele was the daughter of Cadmus,
brother of Europa, and
Harmonia, daughter of
Mars and Venus.
site of Semele one spring day, and as was his habit, fell
in love with her. Jupiter came to her in
simple attire, wooed her, and won her.
Jupiter's jealous wife, Juno, plotted revenge against this
new rival for her husband's affections. She
assumed the guise of Semele's aged nurse, and, as the trusted servant, suggested
that perhaps her lover was not who he claimed to be.
Semele had to know, so she extracted
an oath from Jupiter, the next time she saw
him, that he would come to her in all his glory,
to prove that he was really who he claimed to be.
"Kill me if you can with one fierce Divine embrace!"
she cried out. By this time Semele was already
pregnant by Jupiter with the child Bacchus.
Jupiter, having sworn on the sacred River Styx
to grant Semele any wish she desired, had no
recourse but to come to Semele as she had desired.
Clothed in all his splendor, including lightning and thunder,
Jupiter entered the bedchamber of Semele, embraced her with
searing and divine radiance, and in an instant she was
consumed to ashes. As Semele was engulfed in brilliant
rapture, Jupiter plucked the unborn infant Bacchus from
her womb, and sewed him into his thigh. In due time
Jupiter drew forth Bacchus from his thigh-womb, with
the help of Ilithyia, and Bacchus was born again.
To protect Bacchus from the hostility of his jealous
wife Juno, Jupiter entrusted the infant to his loyal
son and servant Mercury, who took him to Orchomenus
and placed him in the care of Semele's sister Io.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist
specimens, and educational games
You might also be interested in:
How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable....more
In Roman mythology, Jupiter was the king of heaven and Earth and of all the Olympian gods. He was also known as the god of justice. He was named king of the gods in the special meeting that followed his...more
Hermes was the prankster of the gods. And yet, in spite of his pranks, he won the affection of all the gods because of his playfulness, innocence, and helpfulness. He was particularly helpful to Zeus,...more
Gaea was the great deity of the early Greeks. She represented the Earth and was worshipped as the universal mother who had created the universe and borne both the first race of gods (the Titans) and the...more
Following the defeat of the Titans by the Jovian gods, Hades obtained the kingdom of the underworld. One day, while he was riding through the field of battle, the goddess Aphrodite had her companion Eros...more
Neptune was the name that ancient Romans gave to the Greek god of the sea and earthquakes, Poseidon. He was the brother of Jupiter (Zeus) and of Pluto (Hades). After the defeat of their father Saturn (Cronos),...more
Following the defeat of the Titans by the Jovian gods, Pluto obtained the kingdom of the underworld. One day, while he was riding through the field of battle, the goddess Venus had her companion, Cupid,...more
Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea and earthquakes. Poseidon was depicted as a bearded man with long hair, holding a trident and accompanied by dolphins and fish. He had the reputation for having a...more