“Mercury Security Systems” burglar alarm, Islington • This boring design gives no clue whether its name refers to the planet, the element, the crap Queen singer or the myth. Seeing as the myth came first, I shall include this alarm within the mythology section. Mercury was the Roman version of Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods, famed for his winged sandals and helmet, and a snake-entwined staff called a caduceus. The Romans equated him mainly with travel and commerce, and his image can be found adorning stations and shopping centres to this day. A notably slippery character, with traits which would have taken him far in diplomacy or journalism, Mercury combined patronage of noble things such as music, wit, sport and invention with a reputation for cunning and trickery. Which is perhaps how a god strongly associated with thieves and boundaries – described in an ancient Greek hymn as “a watcher by night, a thief at the gates” – has wangled his way onto a burglar alarm. • Spotted: Whitecross Street, Islington, London, EC1, England, 2008 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Islington South and Finsbury
Above: Mercury in Manhattan, still representing trade and travel today. Left: “Winged Mercury” (1933), a carving by Lee Lawrie on the ex-British Empire Building at the Rockerfeller Centre. Right: “Glory of Commerce” (1911-14) by Jules-Alexis Coutain, aka the famous Mercury clock at Grand Central Terminal. There’s more about it on Which Yet Survive, a great but short-lived blog about New York statuary.