|Messenger of the gods
God of trade, thieves, travelers, sports, athletes, and border crossings, guide to the Underworld
Hermes Ingenui (Vatican Museums). Roman copy of the 2nd century BC after a Greek original of the 5th century BC. Hermes wears his usual attributes: kerykeion, kithara, petasus (round hat), traveller's cloak and winged temples.
|Symbol||Talaria, Caduceus, Tortoise, Lyre, Rooster|
|Consort||Merope, Aphrodite, Dryope, Peitho|
|Parents||Zeus and Maia|
|Siblings||Ares, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Hebe, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Perseus, Minos, the Muses, the Graces|
|Children||Pan, Hermaphroditus, Tyche, Abderus, Autolycus, and Angelia|
Hermes is a god of transitions and boundaries. He is quick and cunning, and moved freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine, as emissary and messenger of the gods, intercessor between mortals and the divine, and conductor of souls into the afterlife. He is protector and patron of travelers, herdsmen, thieves, orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, invention and trade. In some myths he is a trickster, and outwits other gods for his own satisfaction or the sake of humankind. His attributes and symbols include the herma, the rooster and the tortoise, purse or pouch, winged sandals, winged cap, and his main symbol is the herald's staff, the Greek kerykeion or Latin caduceus which consisted of two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.
In the Roman adaptation of the Greek pantheon (see interpretatio romana), Hermes is identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, though inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics, such as being the patron of commerce.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Mythology
- 3 Epithets of Hermes
- 4 Worship and cult
- 5 Hermai/Herms
- 6 Hermes's possible offspring
- 7 Extended list of Hermes's lovers and children
- 8 Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
- 9 Art and iconography
- 10 In other religions
- 11 Modern psychological interpretation
- 12 Hermes in popular culture
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
The earliest form of the name Hermes is the Mycenaean Greek 𐀁𐀔𐁀, *e-ma-a2 (e-ma-ha), written in the Linear B syllabic script. Most scholars derive "Hermes" from Greek herma (a stone, roadside shrine or boundary marker), dedicated to Hermes as a god of travelers and boundaries; the etymology of herma itself is unknown. "Hermes" may be related to Greek hermeneus ("the interpreter"), reflecting Hermes's function as divine messenger. Plato offers a Socratic folk-etymology for Hermes's name, deriving it from the divine messenger's reliance on eirein (the power of speech). Scholarly speculation that "Hermes" derives from a more primitive form meaning "one cairn" is disputed. The word "hermeneutics", the study and theory of interpretation, is derived from hermeneus. In Greek a lucky find is a hermaion.
Early Greek sources
Homer and Hesiod portrayed Hermes as the author of skilled or deceptive acts, and also as a benefactor of mortals. In the Iliad he was called "the bringer of good luck," "guide and guardian" and "excellent in all the tricks." He was a divine ally of the Greeks against the Trojans. However, he did protect Priam when he went to the Greek camp to retrieve the body of his son Hector, and he accompanies them back to Troy.
Hermes stole Apollo's cattle when he was born. He jumped out of his crib and hid the cattle. Just when Apollo realized, Hermes jumped back into his crib and pretended to be innocent. Apollo took Hermes by the scruff of the neck and took him to his father, Zeus. Apollo said he was unhappy with the way he was being treated. Instead of punishing young Hermes, Zeus just laughed and found the matter funny.
He also rescued Ares from a brazen vessel where he had been imprisoned by Otus and Ephialtes. In the Odyssey he helped his great-grand son, the protagonist, Odysseus, informing him about the fate of his companions, who were turned into animals by the power of Circe, and instructed him to protect himself by chewing a magic herb; he also told Calypso Zeus' order for her to free the same hero from her island to continue his journey back home. When Odysseus killed the suitors of his wife, Hermes led their souls to Hades. In The Works and Days, when Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create Pandora to disgrace humanity by punishing the act of Prometheus giving fire to man, every god gave her a gift, and Hermes's gift was lies and seductive words, and a dubious character. Then he was instructed to take her as wife to Epimetheus.
Aeschylus wrote in The Eumenides that Hermes helped Orestes kill Clytemnestra under a false identity and other stratagems, and also said that he was the god of searches, and those who seek things lost or stolen. In Philoctetes, Sophocles invokes Hermes when Odysseus needs to convince Philoctetes to join the Trojan War on the side of the Greeks, and in Euripides' Rhesus Hermes helps Dolon spy on the Greek navy.
Aesop featured him in several of his fables, as ruler of the gate of prophetic dreams, as the god of athletes, of edible roots, and of hospitality. He also said that Hermes had assigned each person his share of intelligence.
The Homeric hymn to Hermes invokes him as the one "of many shifts (polytropos), blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods." Hermes, as an inventor of fire, is a parallel of the Titan Prometheus. In addition to the lyre, Hermes was believed to have invented many types of racing and the sports of wrestling and boxing, and therefore was a patron of athletes.
Hellenistic Greek sources
Several writers of the Hellenistic period expanded the list of Hermes's achievements. Callimachus said he disguised himself as a cyclops to scare the Oceanides and was disobedient to his mother. One of the Orphic Hymns Khthonios is dedicated to Hermes, indicating that he was also a god of the underworld. Aeschylus had called him by this epithet several times. Another is the Orphic Hymn to Hermes, where his association with the athletic games held in tone is mystic.
Phlegon of Tralles said he was invoked to ward off ghosts, and Pseudo-Apollodorus reported several events involving Hermes. He participated in the Gigantomachy in defense of Olympus; was given the task of bringing baby Dionysus to be cared for by Ino and Athamas and later by nymphs of Asia, followed Hera, Athena and Aphrodite in a beauty contest; favored the young Hercules by giving him a sword when he finished his education and lent his sandals to Perseus. The Thracian princes identified him with their god Zalmoxis, considering his ancestor.
I Hermes stand here at the crossroads by the wind beaten orchard, near the hoary grey coast; and I keep a resting place for weary men. And the cool stainless spring gushes out.
Epithets of Hermes
Hermes's epithet Ἀργειφόντης Argeiphontes (Latin: Argicida), meaning "Argus-slayer", recalls his slaying of the hundred-eyed giant Argus Panoptes, who was watching over the heifer-nymph Io in the sanctuary of Queen Hera herself in Argos. Hermes placed a charm on Argus's eyes with the caduceus to cause the giant to sleep, after this he slew the giant. Argus' eyes were then put into the tail of the peacock, symbol of the goddess Hera.
Messenger and guide
- Diactoros, (angelos) the messenger, is in fact only seen in this role, for Zeus, from within the pages of the Odyssey (Brown 1990).
... Oh mighty messenger of the gods of the upper and lower worlds ... (Aeschylus).
Explicitly, at least in sources of classical writings, of Euripides Electra and Iphigenia in Aulis and in Epictetus Discourses. According to Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine (1849) the chief office of the God was as messenger.
- hodios patron of travelers and wayfarers
- oneiropompus, conductor of dreams
- poimandres, shepherd of men
- psychopompos, conveyor or conductor of souls and psychogogue, conductor or leader of souls in (or through) the underworld
- Agoraeus, of the agora; belonging to the market - (in Aristophanes [trans. Ehrenberg],) patron of gymnasia
- Dolios (lit. tricky. [According to prominent folklorist Yeleazar Meletinsky, Hermes is a deified trickster.] ) - god (or patron guidance) and master of thieves ("a plunderer, a cattle-raider, a night-watching" - in Homers' Hymns)...
and deception (Euripides) and (possibly evil) tricks and trickeries, crafty (from lit. god of craft), the cheat, god of stealth and of cunning, (see also to act secretively as kleptein in reference - EL Wheeler), of treachery, the schemer, wily, was worshipped at Pellene [Pausanias, vii. 27, 1]), and invoked through Odysseus.
(As the ways of gain are not always the ways of honesty and straightforwardness, Hermes obtains a bad character and an in-moral (amoral [ed.]) cult as Dolios)—
Hermes is amoral like a baby. although Zeus sent Hermes as a teacher to humanity to teach them knowledge of and value of justice and to improve inter-personal relationships ("bonding between mortals").
- Empolaios "engaged in traffic and commerce"
Other epithets included:
- chthonius - At the festival Athenia Chytri sacrifices are made to this visage of the god only.
- cyllenius, born on Mount Kyllini
- epimelios, guardian of flocks
- kriophoros "ram-bearer"
- ploutodotes, giver of wealth (as inventor of fire)
- proopylaios, "before the gate" (Edwardson 2011), (guardian of the gate),Pylaios "doorkeeper"
- strophaios, "standing at the door post"
- Stropheus, "the socket in which the pivot of the door moves" (Kerényi in Edwardson) or "door-hinge". Protector of the door (that is the boundary), to the temple
Worship and cult
Prior to being known as Hermes, Frothingham thought the god to have existed as a snake-god. Angelo (1997) thinks Hermes to be based on the Thoth archetype. The absorbing ("combining") of the attributes of Hermes to Thoth developed after the time of Homer amongst Greek and Roman; Herodotus was the first to identify the Greek god with the Egyptian (Hermopolis), Plutarch and Diodorus also, although Plato thought the gods to be dis-similar (Friedlander 1992).
A cult was established in Greece in remote regions, likely making him a god of nature, farmers, and shepherds. It is also possible that since the beginning he has been a deity with shamanic attributes linked to divination, reconciliation, magic, sacrifices, and initiation and contact with other planes of existence, a role of mediator between the worlds of the visible and invisible.
During the 3rd century BC, a communication between Petosiris (a priest) to King Nechopso, probably written in Alexandria c. 150 BC, states Hermes is the teacher of all secret wisdoms available to knowing by the experience of religious ecstasy.
Due to his constant mobility, he was considered the god of commerce and social intercourse, the wealth brought in business, especially sudden or unexpected enrichment, travel, roads and crossroads, borders and boundary conditions or transient, the changes from the threshold, agreements and contracts, friendship, hospitality, sexual intercourse, games, data, the draw, good luck, the sacrifices and the sacrificial animals, flocks and shepherds and the fertility of land and cattle. In addition to serving as messenger to Zeus, Hermes carried the souls of the dead to Hades, and directed the dreams sent by Zeus to mortals.
One of the oldest places of worship for Hermes was Mount Cilene in Arcadia, where the myth says that he was born. Tradition says that his first temple was built by Lycaon. From there the cult would have been taken to Athens, and then radiate to the whole of Greece, according to Smith, and his temples and statues became extremely numerous. Lucian of Samosata said he saw the temples of Hermes everywhere.
In many places, temples were consecrated in conjunction with Aphrodite, as in Attica, Arcadia, Crete, Samos and in Magna Graecia. Several ex-votos found in his temples revealed his role as initiator of young adulthood, among them soldiers and hunters, since war and certain forms of hunting were seen as ceremonial initiatory ordeals. This function of Hermes explains why some images in temples and other vessels show him as a teenager. As a patron of the gym and fighting, Hermes had statues in gyms and he was also worshiped in the sanctuary of the Twelve Gods in Olympia, where Greeks celebrated the Olympic Games. His statue was held there on an altar dedicated to him and Apollo together. A temple within the Aventine was consecrated in 495 BC.
Symbols of Hermes were the palm tree, turtle, rooster, goat, the number four, several kinds of fish, incense. Sacrifices involved honey, cakes, pigs, goats, and lambs. In the sanctuary of Hermes Promakhos in Tanagra is a strawberry tree under which it was believed he had created, and in the hills Phene ran three sources that were sacred to him, because he believed that they had been bathed at birth.
Hermes's feast was the special Hermaea was celebrated with sacrifices to the god and with athletics and gymnastics, possibly having been established in the 6th century BC, but no documentation on the festival before the 4th century BC survives. However, Plato said that Socrates attended a Hermaea. Of all the festivals involving Greek games, these were the most like initiations because participation in them was restricted to young boys and excluded adults.
In Ancient Greece, Hermes was a phallic god of boundaries. His name, in the form herma, was applied to a wayside marker pile of stones; each traveller added a stone to the pile. In the 6th century BCE, Hipparchos, the son of Pisistratus, replaced the cairns that marked the midway point between each village deme at the central agora of Athens with a square or rectangular pillar of stone or bronze topped by a bust of Hermes with a beard. An erect phallus rose from the base. In the more primitive Mount Kyllini or Cyllenian herms, the standing stone or wooden pillar was simply a carved phallus. In Athens, herms were placed outside houses for good luck. "That a monument of this kind could be transformed into an Olympian god is astounding," Walter Burkert remarked.
In 415 BCE, when the Athenian fleet was about to set sail for Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War, all of the Athenian hermai were vandalized one night. The Athenians at the time believed it was the work of saboteurs, either from Syracuse or from the anti-war faction within Athens itself. Socrates' pupil Alcibiades was suspected of involvement, and Socrates indirectly paid for the impiety with his life.
Hermes's possible offspring
The satyr-like Greek god of nature, shepherds and flocks, Pan, could possibly be the son of Hermes through the nymph Dryope. In the Homeric Hymn to Pan, Pan's mother fled in fright from her newborn son's goat-like appearance.
Extended list of Hermes's lovers and children
- Alcidameia of Corinth
- Antianeira / Laothoe
- Astabe, daughter of Peneus
- Chione / Stilbe / Telauge
- Chryses, priest of Apollo
- Daeira the Oceanid
- Dryope, Arcadian nymph
- Pan (possibly)
- Erytheia (daughter of Geryones)
- Eupolemeia (daughter of Myrmidon)
- three unnamed daughters
- Iphthime (daughter of Dorus)
- Libye (daughter of Palamedes)
- Orsinoe, nymph
- Pan (possibly)
- Palaestra, daughter of Choricus
- Ceryx (possibly)
- Pan (possibly)
- Persephone (unsuccessfully wooed her)
- Polymele (daughter of Phylas)
- Rhene, nymph
- Sicilian nymph
- Sose, nymph
- Tanagra, daughter of Asopus
- Theobula / Clytie / Clymene / Cleobule / Myrto / Phaethusa the Danaid
- Urania, Muse
- Linus (possibly)
- Unknown mothers
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
Art and iconography
The image of Hermes evolved and varied according to Greek art and culture. During Archaic Greece he was usually depicted as a mature man, bearded, dressed as a traveler, herald, or pastor. During Classical and Hellenistic Greece he is usually depicted young and nude, with athleticism, as befits the god of speech and of the gymnastics, or a robe, a formula is set predominantly through the centuries. When represented as Logios (speaker), his attitude is consistent with the attribute. Phidias left a statue of a famous Hermes Logios and Praxiteles another, also well known, showing him with the baby Dionysus in his arms. At all times, however, through the Hellenistic periods, Roman, and throughout Western history into the present day, several of his characteristic objects are present as identification, but not always all together.
Among these objects is a wide-brimmed hat, the Petasos, widely used by rural people of antiquity to protect themselves from the sun, and that in later times was adorned with a pair of small wings, sometimes the hat is not present, but may then have wings rising from the hair. Another object is the Porta a stick, called rhabdomyolysis (stick) or skeptron (scepter), which is referred to as a magic wand. Some early sources say that this was the bat he received from Apollo, but others question the merits of this claim. It seems that there may have been two canes, with time in a cast, one of a shepherd's staff, as stated in the Homeric Hymn, and the other a magic wand, according to some authors. His bat also came to be called kerykeion, the caduceus, in later times. Early depictions of the staff it show it as a baton stick topped by a golden way that resembled the number eight, though sometimes with its top truncated and open. Later the staff had two intertwined snakes and sometimes it was crowned with a pair of wings and a ball, but the old form remained in use even when Hermes was associated with Mercury by the Romans.
Hyginus explained the presence of snakes, saying that Hermes was traveling in Arcadia when he saw two snakes intertwined in battle. He put the caduceus between them and parted, and so said his staff would bring peace. The caduceus, historically, there appeared with Hermes, and is documented among the Babylonians from about 3500 BC. The two snakes coiled around a stick was a symbol of the god Ningishzida, which served as a mediator between humans and the mother goddess Ishtar or the supreme Ningirsu. In Greece itself the other gods have been depicted holding a caduceus, but it was mainly associated with Hermes. It was said to have the power to make people fall asleep or wake up, and also made peace between litigants, and is a visible sign of his authority, being used as a sceptre.
He was represented in doorways, possibly as an amulet of good fortune, or as a symbol of purification. The caduceus is not to be confused with the Rod of Asclepius, the patron of medicine and son of Apollo, which bears only one snake. The rod of Asclepius was adopted by most Western doctors as a badge of their profession, but in several medical organizations of the United States, the caduceus took its place since the 18th century, although this use is declining. After the Renaissance the caduceus also appeared in the heraldic crests of several, and currently is a symbol of commerce.
His sandals, called pédila by the Greeks and talaria by the Romans were made of palm and myrtle branches, but were described as beautiful, golden and immortal, made a sublime art, able to take the roads with the speed of wind. Originally they had no wings, but late in the artistic representations, they are depicted. In certain images, the wings spring directly from the ankles. He has also been depicted with a purse or a bag in his hands, and wearing a robe or cloak, which had the power to confer invisibility. His weapon was a sword of gold, which killed Argos; lent to Perseus to kill Medusa.
In other religions
Modern psychological interpretation
For Carl Jung Hermes was guide to the underworld is become the god of the unconscious, the mediator of information between the conscious and unconscious factors of the mind, and the archetypal messenger conveying communication between realms. Hermes is seminally the guide for the inner journey. Jung considered the gods Thoth and Hermes to be counterparts (Yoshida 2006). In Jungian psychology especially (by Combs and Holland 1994 ), Hermes is thought relevant to study of the phenomenon of synchronicity ( together with Pan and Dionysus)
Hermes is ... the archetypal core of Jung's psyche, theories ...—DL Merritt
In the context of psycho-therapy Hermes is our inner friendliness bringing together the disparate and perhaps isolated core elements of our selves belonging to the realms of the other gods;
...He does not fight with the other gods... it is Hermes in us who befriends our psychological complexes centered by the other gods...— López-Pedraza
In the context of abnormal psychology Samuels (1986) states that Jung considers Hermes the archetype for narcissistic disorder, but also lending the disorder a "positive" (beneficious) aspect, that is Hermes is both the good and bad of narcissism.
For Jung, the trickster is the guide in total for the psychotherapeutic process (p. 86)
Hermes in popular culture
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- Chapman, MS Silvia Comments, Antropológicos the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Fourth National Congress of Classical Studies / XII Meeting of Brazilian Society of Classical Studies.
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- (tertiary) "religious ecstasy" -(a buddhist monk affiliated to ambedkartimes) Retrieved 2012-07-25
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- Padel, Ruth. In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self. Princeton University Press, 1994. pp. 6-9
- Lucian of Samosata. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008. Volume 1, p. 107.
- Johnston, Sarah Iles. Initiation in Myth, Initiation in Practice. IN Dodd, David Brooks & Faraone, Christopher A. Initiation in ancient Greek rituals and narratives: new critical perspectives. Routledge, 2003. pp. 162, 169.
- FG Moore - The Roman's World Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1936 Retrieved 2012-07-14 ISBN 0819601551
- (secondary) -"Aventine"- in V Neskow - The Little Black Book of Rome: The Timeless Guide to the Eternal City Peter Pauper Press, Inc., 1 January 2012 Retrieved 2012-07-14 ISBN 144130665X
- Austin, M. The Hellenistic world from Alexander to the Roman conquest: a selection of ancient sources in translation. Cambridge University Press, 2006. p. 137
- Scanlon, Thomas Francis. Eros and Greek athletics. Oxford University Press U.S., 2002. pp. 92-93
- "Circular Pyxis". The Walters Art Museum.
- Walter Burkert, 1985. Greek Religion (Harvard University Press)
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 6.27.
- Hyginus, Fabula 160, makes Hermes the father of Pan.
- Kerenyi, Gods of the Greeks, 1951, p. 175, noting G. Kaibel, Epigrammata graeca ex lapidibus collecta, 817, where the other god's name, both father and son of Hermes, is obscured; according to other sources, Priapus was a son of Dionysus and Aphrodite.
- Bibliotheca 1.9.16
- Homer's Odyssey, 19, 386-423
- As presumed by Philostratus the Elder in his Imagines, 1.10
- Eustathius on Homer, 804
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 17. 5
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 680
- This Gigas was the father of Ischenus, who was said to have been sacrificed during an outbreak of famine in Olympia; Tzetzes on Lycophron 42
- Hyginus, Fabulae, 160
- Clement of Rome, Homilia, 5. 16
- Scholia on Euripides, Rhesus, 36
- Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 12
- Ptolemy Hephaestion, 6 in Photius, 190
- Saon could also have been the son of Zeus and a local nymph; both versions in Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 48. 2
- Clement of Rome, Homilia, 5. 16; otherwise unknown
- Müller, Karl Otfried. Ancient art and its remains: or, A manual of the archæology of art. B. Quaritch, 1852. pp. 483-488.
- Brown, pp. 9-17
- Hyginus. Astronomica, 2.7. Cited in God of Heralds and Bringer of Peace. The Theoi Project: Greek Mythology
- (tertiary) (R Gross - ed.) - Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour (Hodder Arnold Publishers) & A.Storr The Complete Jung  (Princeton University Press, 14 December 1999)
- A Stevens - On Jung Taylor & Francis, 1990 Retrieved 2012-07-23
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- JC Miller - The Transcendent Function: Jung's Model of Psychological Growth Through Dialogue With the Unconscious SUNY Press, 1 February 2004 Retrieved 2012-07-23 ISBN 0791459772
- DA McNeely
- H Yoshida - Joyce & Jung: The "Four Stages of Eroticism" In a Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man Peter Lang, 1 August 2006 Retrieved 2012-07-24 ISBN 0820469130
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- HJ Hannan - Initiation Through Trauma: A Comparative Study of the Descents of Inanna and Persephone (Dreaming Persephone Forward) ProQuest, 2005 Retrieved 2012-07-25 ISBN 0549474803
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- R López-Pedraza - Hermes and His Children Daimon, 1 June 2003 Retrieved 2012-07-23 ISBN 3856306307
- DA McNeely - Mercury Rising: Women, Evil, and the Trickster Gods Fisher King Press, 1 October 2011 Retrieved 2012-07-23 ISBN 1926715543
- A Samuels. Jung and the Post-Jungians. Taylor & Francis, 1986. ISBN 0710208642. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- (p.19 of Hermes and His Children)
- (secondary) Retrieved 2012-07-26
- "genius" in the oxford university dictionaries online - Retrieved 2012-08-15
- Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004 ISBN 0826452094 - Retrieved 2012-08-15. See Google Book search
- DA McNeely (Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Louisiana State University ...) - Mercury Rising: Women, Evil, and the Trickster Gods Fisher King Press, 1 October 2011 Retrieved 2012-07-26 ISBN 1926715543
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hermes.|
- Theoi Project, Hermes stories from original sources & images from classical art
- Cult & Statues of Hermes
- The Myths of Hermes
- Ventris and Chadwick: Gods found in Mycenaean Greece: a table drawn up from Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek second edition (Cambridge 1973)