Mercury and Argus, Perseus and Medusa, L. Papius denarius symbols 150: harpa / petasos
This post is the result of an investigation initiated by an email exchange with Bill Welch (What I like About Ancient Coins
) about the symbols on this L. Papius denarius (Crawford 384/1) depicting Juno Sospita on the obverse and a gryphon on the reverse. A pair of related symbols is found on the two sides of the coin. This pair of symbols is number 150
in Crawford. To see other symbols visit my L. Papius page
. I have purchased this coin and it is listed as part of my collection
Photo provided by MediterraneanCoins
The obverse symbol is a harpa and the reverse is a petasos, also spelled petasus.
In A Dictionary of Roman Coins, harpa is defined as "a very ancient kind of instrument, in the form of a denticulated sickle ...". The description goes on to say that it is a symbol of Saturn who "used it to mutilate his father, Uranus." It also states that it was used as a weapon by Mercury to kill Argus (the multi-eyed giant), and by Perseus to cut off the head of Medusa.
Petasus is defined as "Mercury's cap, with two wings".
Mercury / Hermes
Mercury was the Roman god equivalent to the Greek god Hermes. His father was Jupiter. Mercury was the god of commerce and travelers. He was Jupiter's messanger and wore a winged cap (the petasos) and winged shoes. He also carried a staff called the caduceus.
Mercury and Argus
Here is the tale of Mercury and Argus the giant, summarized from Bulfinch's Mythology, the Age of Fable, Chapter IV.
Juno one day encountered her husband Jupiter with a heifer (a young cow). Juno correctly suspected this heifer was actually a disguised nymph. Indeed it was Io. Juno asked for the heifer as a gift and Jupiter reluctantly agreed. Argus the many-eyed giant (who always was awake with some of his eyes) was assigned to guard the heifer. Jupiter sent Mercury to rescue Io, his mistress. Mercury played his Syrinx pipes (also called Pandean) to induce Argus to sleep. He then killed Argus. Juno used the eyes to decorate her peacock's tail. Ultimately Jupiter convinced Juno to allow Io to be restored to her true form.
Perseus and Medusa
Statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head by Antonio Canova, ca. 1800, on Pius VII's demand. In the Vatican Museum.
Image is in the public domain and was obtained from the Wikipedia commons here.
Perseus was the son of Jupiter and Danae, daughter of King Acrisius. He was given the task to defeat the monster Medusa who upon being seen turned the viewer into stone. Perseus was lent a shiny shield from Minerva and Mercury's winged shoes. While Medusa slept, Perseus approached. He viewed her only through the reflection in the shield and therefore avoided being turned to stone. After cutting off Medusa's head, he flew away using the winged shoes.
Medusa's Story on Ancient Coins