Hermes (known as Mercury to the Romans) is one of the oddest, most gifted, and most popular Olympian gods. He is the son of Zeus and Maia. Hermes was the god of transitions and boundaries, driver of the living and dead, preacher and messenger of the gods, protector of the young, shepherds, athletes and thieves.
The birth of the competent and inventive god took place in Arcadia and more specifically at mountain Kyllini. In a cave there, lived one of the seven daughters of Atlas and Pliionis, the shy Pleiades Maia. The flirty Zeus spotted her in this cave and mated with her. The immortal nymph brought to the world the fruit of her love with Zeus, the small and miraculous Hermes.
From the very first day of his birth, Hermes began to excel. Taking advantage of the absence of his mother for a moment, he jumped off the bed and went out of the cave to play. He soon came upon a turtle. Impressed by the little animal’s shell, he turned it upside down, and dumped the turtle on the ground. Using stretched calfskin, he covered the top open part of the shell.
Then he made seven strings from sheep intestines, and produced a wonderful musical instrument. He takes a stick and starts improvising, singing about the love of his father and mother.
After some time, he realizes he is hungry, and decides to leave Arcadia. Going north, he covered a great distance within a very short time. By sunset Hermes was near Pieria, where he found Apollo’s flock of cattle. Quickly rounding up fifty fine heifers, he comes up with a devious plan to cover his theft.
In order to hide the path he was taking, he mixed leaves with inverted footprints, making it appear the flock went the other way, while he drove his new flock safely into Peloponnese without detection.
As he was going down to the south, near Boeotia, Hermes was seen by an elder cultivating his vineyard. Hermes was not intimidated at all by the meeting with the older farmer. With the rigor and flamboyance of an important man, he demanded his silence and casually continued his journey downwards. By daybreak he arrived in Pylos.
He butchered two heifers to satisfy his hunger, and hid the rest of the herd in a barn. Cutting twelve pieces of meat (one for each Olympian god) and lighting a fire with some trick (rubbing specifically a branch of laurel), he prepared the pieces for sacrifice. Then, being tired by the tension of the day, he returned to the cave, went like the wind through the keyhole and returned to his crib.
The very next day, Apollo discovered the loss and understood that it was a thievery. As god of divination, he guessed how the thief could have acted and decided to find him and take revenge.
He descended to the south and luckily, while walking on the road, he met the old man who had seen Hermes the day before, which confirmed his suspicions. When the enraged Apollo reached Kyllini, he found his mother and began to accuse his little brother.
Hermes does not remain silent in front of the barrage of attacks from his brother. He took a defensive stance on the allegations and strongly protested. He even proposed that the two of them should climb Mount Olympus to solve the dispute with the intervention of their father Zeus.
Zeus is astonished at the cunning and boldness of his little son. He admires his ingenuity and is amused by his antics. Listening to the grievances of both his children, he advises them, and manages to reconcile them.
The initially mischievous Hermes is convinced by his father’s words and decides to return the heifers to Apollo. Additionally, in order to calm him, Hermes plays improvised music with his lyre. Apollo is thrilled and bewitched by the invention of his brother and requests it as a gift.
Hermes does not refuse his request. He gives the lyre to his brother, but asks in return to be allowed to keep the small herd of stolen heifers that he had returned.
Apollo agreed with the proposal and gave him the herd, then threw in the stick of wealth and happiness, and finally the privilege of divination (which until then was held by the Thries, three winged virgins).
The feud between the two brothers ended successfully with their commitment to give each other eternal support, love and friendship. After this negotiation with his brother, the shifty Hermes quickly won the favor of the other gods.
First, Zeus appointed him as his preacher and negotiator. Confident about his cleverness and cunning, he gives him the winged sandals and entrusts him to confidential and critical missions.
Hermes, flying over land and seas, conveys Zeus’s intentions and brings back news and informs him of upcoming events he has learned about in his travels. As a tireless runner, he is a fast messenger often in demand. When he isn’t busy delivering messages for Zeus, Hermes services are also in great demand by the other gods.
Hades, like Zeus, soon realizes the value of his abilities. Hades soon hires him to his kingdom and instructs him in the call and transfer of the dead to their new home. Hermes, with the jurisdictions that Hades offers him, is the only god who crosses and acts in all three worlds: in the Sky, on Earth and in the Underworld. In most mythological tales, Hermes is involved with duties as a messenger, a soul carrier, and as a companion and protector.
Many myths attest to his abilities, skills, and tremendous power and usefulness. During the War with the Giants, wearing a cap that made him invisible, Hermes killed Hippolytus. At the same time he helped his father, Zeus, in his confrontation with Tyfoea. After managing to eliminate him, his gathered the stolen nerves of his father and repositioned them into his father’s feet and hands.
Hermes, after receiving instructions from his father, managed to steal the beautiful Io, which Hera had transformed into a heifer. He put her guardian Argus to sleep by playing a tune with his lumen (an early version of a flute), then he managed to blind him and finally to cut his head off.
When the first Greek cities were created, each God decided to take one or more cities under their protection. Major shrines were erected in the cities, and the most glorious feasts and sacrifices were dedicated to them. Who would be the protector of a city was sometimes decided by the rest of the Olympians, but other times by some smaller deities, the king, or even the city’s inhabitants.
Ares was imprisoned, for about a year, by the twin giants Aloades into a bronze cauldron. Hermes managed to free him and bring him back to Mount Olympus. When Zeus burned Semele, Hermes was assigned to transfer the small Dionysus from Evia to the Nymphs of the mountain Nysa.
Apollo entrusted Hermes with the guardianship of little Asclepius, son of his unfaithful lover Koronida. Jonah, abandoned at the rocks of Acropolis (from his mother Creusa) was transferred by Hermes to the oracle of Delphi, in order to be close to his father, Apollo.
The transfer of Phrixus and Elli on the Aegean was also a success, thanks to Hermes and the golden ram he had given to Nefeli.
When Odysseus (Ulysses) was on the island of Circe, he also accepted the help of Hermes. The young god transformed himself and revealed to him the witch’s plans, giving him also the antidote to their magic.
On the island of Calypso, Hermes tried to save Odysseus again. With the instigation of Zeus, he intervenef and notified Calypso about the decision of the gods regarding the fate of Odysseus.
Perseus, like all the other heroes, also received the support of Hermes. Committed to acquire Gorgon’s head and desperate from the huge labor that he undertook, he decided to ask Hermes to help him. Hermes gave him a diamond sickle and helped him to kill Medusa and cut off her head.
Hermes also played a very important role in many incidents that are prior to, during and at the end of the Trojan War.
Originally, Hermes was the one who led the three goddesses to Mount Ida, where Paris chose the one that was the most beautiful. Then Hermes stole the real Helen and hid her in Egypt.
Hermes also was the one who was sent by the gods to Paris and informed him about their decisions. During the Trojan War, he was instructed by the gods to steal the body of Hector, which was abused by Achilles. Shortly after, he transformed into a mortal, and accompanied the old man Priamos to the tent of Achilles to ask for the dead body of his son Hector.
Finally, at the end of the Trojan War, Hermes again descended to Mycenae, to warn Aegisthus about what he was destined to suffer if he decided to marry Clytemnestra.
Hermes stole the dead Alcmene, mother of Heracles, and brought her to the island of Makaron. Hermes again helped Heracles, who wanted to raise the Cerberus to earth. Hermes again brought back Persephone to the world, daughter of Demeter who was grabbed by the god of the Underworld, after he persuaded Hades to let her go.
Hermes invited with his wand the souls of the dead suitors of Penelope, that laid in the palace of Odysseus, and led them to the Underworld. The myths surrounding the life and action of Hermes converge on the outline of a single character. The variety and richness of the factors that his personality had, degraded his appearance as a god in a good way. In other words, he embodies virtues and defects of a mortal man.
Apart from the responsible services and serious missions offered by the illegitimate son of Zeus, Hermes was also an incorrigible prankster. Once, in order to amuse himself, he had grabbed the clothes of his mother and some other nymphs while they did their bath. Also in the past, he had managed to fool Hera making her suckle another illegitimate son of Zeus, Heracles.
The ancient Greeks had yielded too many contrivances in Hermes. To him were attributed the discovery of fire, the construction of the first lyre and the flute. For the people of ancient Greece, Hermes was the god of speech, eloquence, the inventor of letters and numbers.
He also was the one who had given the first woman, Pandora, human voice and made her speak with fake, fraudulent and bad words. As the son of one of the Pleiades, Hermes was also associated with astronomy, and considered the initiator of weights and measures and the patron of commerce.
As an ideal runner, Hermes, along with Eros and Heracles were characterized as gods of the athletic youth, gymnastic exercises and wrestling arenas. From the incident, initially of theft and then rearing and caring for the fifty heifers of Apollo, the son of Zeus was associated with deceitfulness, exploitation, and livestock and was the patron of thieves and shepherds.
Hermes was a flirty and quite lively god. Many women, not only goddesses but also mortals, satisfied his erotic desires and gave him many children.
From his union with the nymph Driopi, his goat-footed son, Pan was born, while from another nymph he acquired Daphne. He also had a son, Autolycus, by his association with the Chioni (or Filonida) and another son, Myrtilos from Klymeni (or Phaethousa). From Akallia (daughter of Minos) he acquired Kydonas and from Alkidameia the Vounos.
Hermes also had other sons, Arpalykos (to whom he had even taught the art of stealing) and Abderos. By Aglafro (daughter of Cecrops) he had acquired the Kyrikas, and he had also joined with the Apimosyni. Finally, he was always in love with Aphrodite (he had even confided this to Hephaestus when he had caught her in bed with Ares), but never managed to acquire her.
In classical mythology, Hermanubis was a god who combined Hermes (Greek mythology) with Anubis (Egyptian mythology). Hermes and Anubis’s similar responsibilities (they were both conductors of souls) led to the god Hermanubis. The picture to left is a sculpture of Hermanubis, which is housed in the VATICAN Museums, VATICAN City.
Cunning and clever, agile and tricky, resourceful and wily, dreamer, thief and flatterer, energetic and restless are some of Hermes key personality traits. Hermes is best remembered as an intermediary and savior to the Underworld, and for his actions as a messenger of the Gods.