Hermes

Greek Gods
Fast Facts:
  • Pronunciation: HER-meez
  • Origin: Greek
  • Role: Messenger of the gods; God of travel, sports, thieves and trade
  • Parents: Zeus and Maia
  • Children: Hermaphroditus, Priapus and Pan
  • Symbols: Staff, Winged Sandals
  • Other Names: Mercury, Ermis

Who Is Hermes?

Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia. He was commonly known as the messenger god but his official title was the Greek god of commerce. He was quick to act and fast on his feet. He was known as the link between humans and gods and earned a reputation as being fun yet helpful.

Purpose

As mentioned, Hermes was the messenger god. He would help mortals and gods communicate but he was also a protector of travelers, including Odysseus. He had a sense of humor and would occasionally trick other gods to get a laugh. Besides conversing with mortals and gods, Hades also served as the messenger for those in the underworld and afterlife.

Origins

Hermes’ purpose and responsibilities as a god were once very different. His responsibilities originally revolved around sex, as he was the god of fertility and good fortune. His name originates from the word herma, the word used for a square or rectangular pillar with Hermes’ head near the top and male genitalia near the bottom. They were used outside of homes to keep evil away. During the Peloponnesian War, all the herms in Athens were defaced to offend Hermes. It was sometime after this that his purpose began to transition into the god of commerce.

Legends and Stories

Hermes’ myths are some of the more entertaining in Greek mythology. He was known for his fun nature and his willingness to help those in need. Here are a couple to give you a better understanding of the god.

Hermes and Apollo

When he was still a baby, Hermes killed a tortoise. He made an instrument from its shell. Later, he stole Apollo’s cattle and returned to his cradle. Apollo began looking for his cattle. Hermes proclaimed ignorance regarding the animals, even coming up with a fabricated story as an alibi. While telling the story, he took Apollo’s bow and arrows.

But Zeus knew the truth and demanded that Hermes return the animals. Hermes then brought Apollo to where he had hidden the cattle. He played his instrument while Apollo was gathering the animals and Apollo was so impressed that he said he would forget about the cattle if Hermes would give him the instrument instead. Hermes agreed and also gave the god his bow and arrows back.

Hermes became known for his helpfulness, especially with the other gods. He saved Zeus’ lover, Io, from the giant Argus. He charmed the monster with his flute until he fell into a deep sleep. Hermes beheaded the giant and set Io free.

Hermes also persuaded Calypso to release Odysseus. The hero had been kept captive by the nymph ever since he shipwrecked on her island. She promised him immortality if he would make her his bride but he refused. When he was waved by Hermes, it was said that Calypso died of grief.

Hermes saved Odysseus one other time, along with his men, from the sorceress Circe. She was going to turn them all into pigs but Hermes gave the men an herb to protect them.

Family

Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia. He was born on Mount Cyllene in southern Greece. He had many love affairs, both with other goddesses and mortals. He loved Aphrodite and together they had two children, Hermaphroditus and Priapus. Hermes had another child, Pan, who was half man and half goat. He was the god of shepherds.

Appearance

Hermes is usually depicted as a young man. His clothes are that of a traveler and he wears a petasus, or a flat hat. His sandals have wings, a tribute to his speed. In some artistic representations, he also has wings on his hat and attached to his shoulders.
He is often holding a winged staff with snakes around it. This staff helped him to charm other gods or awaken those in deep slumber.

Symbology

Items associated with Hermes are few but very symbolic. His staff symbolizes his power and his winged sandals symbolize his speed. He is also associated with a leather pouch and the ram.

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