Hermes in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
Ἑρμῆς, (*(Ermei/as, Dor. Ἑρμᾶς), a son of Zeus and Maia, the
daughter of Atlas, was born in a cave of Mount Cyllene in
Arcadia (Hom. Od. 8.335, 14.435, 24.1; Hymn. in Merc. 1,
&c.; Ov. Met. 1.682, 14.291), whence he is called
Atlantiades or Cyllenius; but Philostratus (Icon. 1.26)
places his birth in Olympus. In the first hours after his
birth, he escaped from his cradle, went to Pieiria, and
carried off some of the oxen of Apollo. (Hom. Hymn. in Merc.
17.) In the Iliad and Odyssey this tradition is not
mentioned, though Hermes is characterised as a cunning
thief. (Il. 5.390, 24.24.) Other accounts, again, refer the
theft of the oxen to a more advanced period of the life of
the god. (Apollod. iii. 10.2; Ant. Lib. 23.) In order not to
be discovered by the traces of his footsteps, Hermes put on
sandals, and drove the oxen to Pylos, where he killed two,
and concealed the rest in a cave. (Comp. the different
stratagems by which he escaped in Horn. Hymn. in Merc. 75,
&c., and Anton. Lib. l.c.) The skins of the slaughtered
animals were nailed to a rock, and part of their flesh was
prepared and consumed, and the rest burnt; at the same time
he offered scrifices to the twelve gods, whence he is
probably called the inventor of divine worship and
sacrifices. (Hom. Hymn. in Merc. 125, &c.; Diod. 1.16.)
Hereupon he returned to Cyllene, where he found a tortoise
at the entrance of his native cave. He took the animal's
shell, drew strings across it, and thus invented the lyre
and plectrum. The number of strings of his new invention is
said by some to have been three and by others seven, and
they were made of the guts either of oxen or of sheep. (Hom.
l.c. 51; Diod. 1.16, 5.75; Orph. Argon. 381; Hor. Carm.
1.10. 6.) Apollo, by his prophetic power, had in the
meantime discovered the thief, and went to Cyllene to charge
him with it before his mother Maia. She showed to the god
the child in its cradle; but Apollo took the boy before
Zeus, and demanded back his oxen. Zeus commanded him to
comply with the demand of Apollo, but Hermes denied that he
had stolen the cattle. As, however, he saw that his
assertions were not believed, he conducted Apollo to Pylos,
and restored to him his oxen; but when Apollo heard the
sounds of the lyre, he was so charmed that he allowed Hermes
to keep the animals. Hermes now invented the syrinx, and
after having disclosed his inventions to Apollo, the two
gods concluded an intimate friendship with each other. (Hom.
l.c. 514, &c.) Apollo presented his young friend with his
own golden shepherd's staff, taught him the art of
prophesying by means of dice, and Zeus made him his own
herald, and also of the gods of the lower world. According
to the Homeric hymn (533, &c.), Apollo refused to teach
Hermes the art of prophecy, and referred him for it to the
three sisters dwelling on Parnassus; but he conferred upon
him the office of protecting flocks and pastures (568; comp.
Lucian, Dial. Deor. 7; Ov. Met. 2.683, &c.).
The principal feature in the traditions about Hermes
consists in his being the herald of the gods, and in this
capacity he appears even in the Homeric poems; his original
character of an ancient Pelasgian, or Arcadian divinity of
nature, gradually disappeared in the legends. As the herald
of the gods, he is the god of skill in the use of speech and
of eloquence in general, for the heralds are the public
speakers in the assemblies and on other occasions. (Il.
1.333, 4.193, 7.279, 385, 8.517, 11.684; comp. Orph. Hymn.
27. 4; Aelian, Ael. NA 10.29; Hor. Carm. 1.10. 1.) As an
adroit speaker, he was especially employed as messenger,
when eloquence was required to attain the desired object.
(Od. 1.38, Il. 24.390; Hom. Hymn. in Cer. 335.) Hence the
tongues of sacrificial animals were offered to him.
(Aristoph. Peace 1062; Athen. 1.16.) As heralds and
messengers are usually men of prudence and circumspection,
Hermes was also the god of prudence and skill in all the
relations of social intercourse. (Il. 20.35, 24.282, Od.
2.38.) These qualities were combined with similar ones, such
as cunning both in words and actions, and even fraud,
perjury, and the inclination to steal; but acts of this kind
were committed by Hermes always with a certain skill,
dexterity, and even gracefulness. Examples occur in the
Homeric hymn on Hermes (66, 260, 383; comp. Eustath. ad Hom.
p. 1337; Hom. Il. 5.390, 24.24; Apollod. 1.6.3).
Being endowed with this shrewdness and sagacity, he was
regarded as the author of a variety of inventions, and,
besides the lyre and syrinx, he is said to have invented the
alphabet, numbers, astronomy, music, the art of fighting,
gymnastics, the cultivation of the olive tree, measures,
weights, and many other things. (Plut. Sympos. 9.3; Diod.
l.c. and 5.75; Hyg. Fab. 277.) The powers which he possessed
himself he conferred upon those mortals and heroes who
enjoyed his favour, and all who had them were under his
especial protection, or are called his sons. (Od. x. 277,
&c., 15.318, &c., 19.397; Soph. Philoct. 133; Hes. Op. 67;
Eustath. ad Hom. pp. 18, 1053.) He was employed by the gods
and more especially by Zeus on a variety of occasions which
are recorded in ancient story. Thus he conducted Priam to
Achilles to fetch the body of Hector (Il. 24.336), tied
Ixion to the wheel (Hyg. Fab. 62), conducted Hera,
Aphrodite, and Athena to Paris (Hyg. Fab. 92; Paus. 5.19.1),
fastened Prometheus to Mount Caucasus (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog.
6.42), rescued Dionysus after his birth from the flames, or
received him from the hands of Zeus to carry him to Athamas
(Apollod. 3.4.3; Apollon. 4.1137), sold Heracles to Omphale
(Apollod. 2.6.3), and was ordered by Zeus to carry off Io,
who was metamorphosed into a cow, and guarded by Argus; but
being betrayed by Hierax, he slew Argus. (Apollod. 2.1.3.)
From this murder he is very commonly called Ἀργειφόντης.
(Il. 24.182; comp. Schol. ad Aeschyl. Prom. 563; Ov. Met.
1.670, &c.) In the Trojan war Hermes was on the side of the
Greeks. (Il. 20.72, &c.) His ministry to Zeus is not
confined to the offices of herald and messenger, but he is
also the charioteer and cupbearer. (Hom. Od. 1.143, Il.
24.178, 440, Hymn. in Cer. 380; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1205.)
As dreams are sent by Zeus, Hermes, the ἡγήτωρ ὀνείρων,
conducts them to man, and hence he is also described as the
god who had it in his power to send refreshing sleep or to
take it away. (Hom. Hymn. in Merc. 14, Il. 2.26, 24.343,
&c.) Another important function of Hermes was to conduct the
shades of the dead from the upper into the lower world,
whence he is called ψυχοπομπός, νεκροπομτός, ψυχαγωγός, &c.
(Hom. Od. 24.1, 9, Hymn. in Cer. 379, &c.; Eustath. ad Hom.
p. 561; D. L. 8.31; Hyg. Fab. 251.)
The idea of his being the herald and messenger of the gods,
of his travelling from place to place and concluding
treaties, necessarily implied the notion that he was the
promoter of social intercourse and of commerce among men,
and that he was friendly towards man. (Od. 19.135, Il.
24.333.) In this capacity he was regarded as the maintainer
of peace, and as the god of roads, who protected travellers,
and punished those who refused to assist travellers who had
mistaken their way. (Il. 7.277, &c.; Theocrit. 25.5;
Aristoph. Pl. 1159.) Hence the Athenian generals, on setting
out on an expedition, offered sacrifices to Hermas, surnamed
Hegemonius, or Agetor; and numerous statues of the god were
erected on roads, at doors and gates, from which
circumstance he derived a variety of surnames and epithets.
As the god of commerce, he was called διέμπορος, ἐμπολαῖος,
παλιγκάπηλος, κερδέμπορος, ἀγοραῖος, &c. (Aristoph. Pl.
1155; Pollux, 7.15; Orph. Hymn. 27.6; Paus. 1.15.1, 2.9. §.
7, 3.11.8, &c.); and as commerce is the source of wealth,
Hermes is also the god of gain and riches, especially of
sudden and unexpected riches, such as are acquired by
commerce. As the giver of wealth and good luck
(πλουτοδότης), he also presided over the game of dice, and
those who played it threw an olive leaf upon the dice, and
first drew this leaf. (Hom. Il. 7.183; Aristoph. Peace 365;
Eustath. ad Hom. p. 675.) We have already observed that
Hermes was considered as the inventor of sacrifices, and
hence he not only acts the part of a herald at sacrifices
(Aristoph. Peace 433), but is also the protector of
sacrificial animals, and was believed in particular to
increase the fertility of sheep. (Hom. Hymn. in Merc. 567,
&c., Il. 14.490, 16.180, &c; Hes. Th. 444.) For this reason
he was especially worshipped by shepherds, and is mentioned
in connection with Pan and the Nymphs. (Hom. Od. 14.435;
Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1766; Aristoph. Thes. 977; Paus. 8.16.1;
9.34.2; Schol. ad Soph. Philoct. 14, 59.) This feature in
the character of Hermes is a remnant of the ancient Arcadian
religion, in which he was the fertilising god of the earth,
who conferred his blessings on man; and some other traces of
this character occur in the Homeric poems. (Il. 24.360, Od.
8.335, 16.185, Hymn. in Merc. 27.)
Another important function of Hermes was his being the
patron of all the gymnastic games of the Greeks. This idea
seems to be of late origin, for in the Homeric poems no
trace of it is found; and the appearance of the god, such as
it is there described, is very different from that which we
might expect in the god of the gymnastic art. But as his
images were erected in so many places, and among them, at
the entrance of the gymnasia, the natural result was, that
he, like Heracles and the Dioscuri, was regarded as the
protector of youths and gymnastic exercises and contests
(Pind. N. 10.53), and that at a later time the Greek artists
derived their ideal of the god from the gymnasium, and
represented him as a youth whose limbs were beautifully and
harmoniously developed by gymnastic exercises. Athens seems
to have been the first place in which he was worshipped in
this capacity. (Pind. P. 2.10, Isthm. 1.60; Aristoph. Pl.
1161.) The numerous descendants of Hermes are treated of in
separate articles. It should be observed that the various
functions of the god led some of the ancients to assume a
plurality of gods of this name. Cicero (de Nat. Deor. 3.22)
distinguishes five, and Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 1.301, 4.577)
four; but these numbers also include foreign divinities,
which were identified by the Greeks with their own Hermes.
The most ancient seat of his worship is Arcadia, the land of
his birth, where Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, is said to
have built to him the first temple. (Hyg. Fab. 225.) From
thence his worship was carried to Athens, and ultimately
spread through all Greece. The festivals celebrated in his
honour were called Ἕρμαια. (Dict. of Ant. s, v.) His temples
and statues (Dict. of Ant. s.v. Hermae) were extremely
numerous in Greece. The Romans identified him with Mercury.
[MERCURIUS.] Among the things sacred to him we may mention
the palm tree, the tortoise, the number four, and several
kinds of fish; and the sacrifices offered to him consisted
of incense, honey, cakes, pigs, and especially lambs and
young goats. (Paus. 7.22.2; Aristoph. Pl. 1121, 1144; Hom.
Od. 14.435, 19.397; Athen. 1.16.)
The principal attributes of Hermes are: 1. A travelling hat,
with a broad brim, which in later times was adorned with two
little wings; the latter, however, are sometimes seen
arising from his locks, his head not being covered with the
hat. 2. The staff (ῥάβδος or σκῆπτρον): it is frequently
mentioned in the Homeric poems as the magic staff by means
of which he closes and opens the eyes of mortals, but no
mention is made of the person or god from whom he received
it, nor of the entwining serpents which appear in late works
of art. According to the Homeric hymn and Apollodorus, he
received it from Apollo; and it appears that we must
distinguish two staves, which were afterwards united into
one: first, the ordinary herald's staff (Il. 7.277, 18.505),
and secondly, a magic staff, such as other divinities also
possessed. (Lucian, Dial. Deor. 7.5; Verg. A. 4.242, &c.)
The white ribbons with which the herald's staff was
originally surrounded were changed by later artists into two
serpents (Schol. ad Thuc. 1.53; Macr. 1.19; comp. Hygin.
Poet. Astr. 2.7; Serv. ad Aen. 4.242, 8.138), though the
ancients themselves accounted for them either by tracing
them to some feat of the god, or by regarding them as
symbolical representations of prudence, life, health, and
the like. The staff, in later times, is further adorned with
a pair of wings, expressing the rapidity with which the
messenger of the gods moved from place to place. 3. The
sandals (πέδιλα.) They were beautiful and golden, and
carried the god across land and sea with the rapidity of
wind; but Homer no where says or suggests that they were
provided with wings. The plastic art, on the other hand,
required some outward sign to express this quality of the
god's sandals, and therefore formed wings at his ancles,
whence he is called πτηνοπέδιλος, or alipes. (Orph. Hymn.
27.4; Ov. Met. 11.312.) In addition to these attributes,
Hermes sometimes holds a purse in his hands. Several
representations of the god at different periods of his life,
as well as in the discharge of his different functions, have
come down to us. (Hirt, Mythol. Bilderb. i. p. 63, &c.) - A
Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology,
William Smith, Ed.
Hermes in Wikipedia
Hermes (pronounced /ˈhɜrmiːz/; Greek Ἑρμῆς) is the great
messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and additionally as a
guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Cyllene in
Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries
and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and
cowherds, of the cunning of thieves and liars, of orators
and wit, of literature and poets, of athletics and sports, of
weights and measures, of invention, and of commerce in
general. His symbols include the tortoise, the rooster, the
winged sandals, the winged hat, and the caduceus (given to him
by Apollo in exchange for the lyre)...