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Homeric world (11)

Gods & demigods

Hermes

Son of Zeus by Maia, born on Mount Cyllene, on the top of which there was a temple dedicated to Cyllenian Hermes. He is the messenger of the gods, like Iris (Il. 24.347, Od. 5.28), and the conductor of souls to Hades (Od. 24.1).


Hermes (dor. Hermas). The son of Zeus and of the Naiad Maia, daughter of Atlas. Immediately after his birth upon the Arcadian mountain of Cyllene, he gave proof of his chief characteristics--inventiveness and versatility, united with fascination, trickery, and cunning. Born in the morning, by mid-day he had invented the lyre; in the evening he stole fifty head of cattle from his brother Apollo, which he hid so skilfully in a cave that they could not be found. After these exploits he lay down quietly in his cradle. Apollo, by means of his prophetic power, discovered the thief and took the offender to Zeus, who ordered the cattle to be given up. Hermes, however, so delighted his brother by his playing on the lyre that, in exchange for it, he allowed him to keep the cattle, resigned to him the golden staff of fortune and of riches, with the gift of prophecy in its humbler forms, and from that time forth became his best friend. Zeus made his son herald to the gods and the guide of the dead in Hades. In this myth are contained allusions to several attributes of the god.
    In many districts of Greece, and especially in Arcadia, the old seat of his worship, Hermes was regarded as a god who bestowed the blessing of fertility on the pastures and herds, and who was happiest when spending his time among shepherds and dallying with Nymphs, by whom he had numberless children, including Pan and Daphnis. In many places he was considered the god of crops, and also as the god of mining and of digging for buried treasure. His kindliness to man is also shown in his being the god of roads. At cross-roads in particular, there were raised in his honour, and called by his name, not only heaps of stones, to which every passer-by added a stone, but also the quadrangular pillars known as Hermae. At Athens these last were set up in the streets and open spaces, and also before the doors. Every unexpected find on the road was called a gift of Hermes (hermaion). Together with Athene, he escorted and protected heroes in perilous enterprises, and gave them prudent counsels. He took special delight in men's dealings with one another, in exchange and barter, in buying and selling; and in all that is won by craft or by theft. Thus he was the patron of tradespeople and thieves, and was himself the father of Autolycus, the greatest of all thieves. He, too, it was who endowed Pandora, the first woman, with the faculty of lying, and with flattering discourse and a crafty spirit. On account of his nimbleness and activity he was the messenger of Zeus, and knew how to carry out his father's commands with adroitness and cunning, as in the slaying of Argos (the guard of Io), from which he derived his epithet of Argos-slayer (Argeiphontes). Again, as Hermes was the sacrificial herald of the gods, it was an important part of the duty of heralds to assist at sacrifices. It was on this account that the priestly race of the Kerukes claimed him as the head of their family. Strength of voice and excellence of memory were supposed to be derived from him in his capacity of herald. Owing to his vigour, dexterity, and personal charm, he was deemed the god of gymnastic skill, which makes men strong and handsome, and the especial patron of boxing, running, and throwing the discus; in this capacity the palaestrae and gymnasia were sacred to him, and particular feasts called Hermaea were dedicated to him. He was the discoverer of music (for besides the lyre he invented the shepherd's pipe), and he was also the god of wise and clever discourse. A later age made him even the inventor of letters, figures, mathematics, and astronomy. He was, besides, the god of sleep and of dreams; with one touch of his staff he could close or open the eyes of mortals; hence the custom, before going to sleep, of offering him the last libation. As he was the guide of the living on their way, so he was also the conductor of the souls of the dead in the nether-world (psuchopompos), and was as much loved by the gods of those regions as by those above. For this reason sacrifices were offered to him in the event of deaths, Hermae were placed on the graves, and, at oracles and incantations of the dead, he was honoured as belonging to the lower world; in general, he was accounted the intermediary between the upper and lower worlds. His worship early spread throughout the whole of Greece. As he was born in the fourth month, the number four was sacred to him. In Argos the fourth month was named after him, and in Athens he was honoured with sacrifices on the fourth of every month. His altars and images (mostly simple Hermae) were in all the streets, thoroughfares, and open spaces, and also at the entrance of the palaestra.
    In art he is represented in the widely varying characters which he assumed, as a shepherd with a single animal from his flock, as a mischievous little thief, as the god of gain with a purse in his hand, with a strigil as patron of the gymnasia, at other times with a lyre, but oftenest of all as the messenger of the gods. He was portrayed by the greatest sculptors, such as Phidias, Polyclitus, Scopas, and Praxiteles, whose Hermes with the infant Dionysus was discovered in 1877, in the temple of Here, at Olympia. It is mentioned by Pausanias, and is described by Treu in his Hermes mit dem Dionysosknaben (Berlin, 1878). In the older works of art he appears as a bearded man; in the later ones, he is found in a graceful and charming attitude, as a slim youth with tranquil features, indicative of intellect and good-will. His usual attributes are wings on his golden sandals (pedila), and a flat, broad-brimmed hat, which in later times was ornamented with wings, as was also his staff. This last (rhabdos, kerukeion, caduceus) was originally an enchanter's wand, a symbol of power that produces wealth and prosperity, and also an emblem of influence over the living and the dead, yet even in early times it was regarded as a herald's staff and an emblem of peaceful intercourse. It consisted of three shoots, one of which formed the handle, the other two being intertwined at the top in a knot. The place of the latter was afterwards taken by serpents; and thus arose our ordinary type of herald's staff. By the Romans, Hermes was identified with Mercurius. For examples of the myths of Hermes in English literature, see Shelley's Homeric Hymn to Mercury, and Keats's Ode to Maia, with some fine passages in the Prometheus Bound of the former poet.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Hermes (Hermeias, Dor. Hermas), a son of Zeus and Maia, the daughter of Atlas, was born in a cave of Mount Cyllene in Arcadia (Hom. Od. viii. 335, xiv. 435, xxiv. 1; Hymn. in Merc. 1; Ov. Met. i. 682, xiv. 291), whence he is called Atlantiades or Cyllenius; but Philostratus (Icon. i. 26) places his birth in Olympus. In the first hours after his birth, he escaped from his cradle, went to Pieria, 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. v. 390, xxiv. 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; Anton. 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, 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; Diod. i. 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. i. 16, v. 75; Orph. Argon. 381; Horat. Carm. i. 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). 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), 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. ii. 683).
  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. i. 333, iv. 193, vii. 279, 385, viii. 517, xi. 684; comp. Orph. Hymn. 27. 4; Aelian, H. A. x. 29; Hor. Carm. i. 10. 1). As an adroit speaker, he was especially employed as messenger, when eloquence was required to attain the desired object (Od. i. 38, Il. xxiv. 390; Hom. Hymn. in Cer. 335). Hence the tongues of sacrificial animals were offered to him (Aristoph. Pax, 1062; Athen. i). 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. xx. 35, xxiv. 282, Od. ii. 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.; Hom. Il. v. 390, xxiv. 24; Apollod. i. 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. ix. 3; Diod. l.c. and v. 75; Hygin. 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, xv. 318, xix. 397; Soph. Philoct. 133; Hes. Op. 67; Eustath. ad Hom.). 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. xxiv. 336), tied Ixion to the wheel (Hygin. Fab. 62), conducted Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena to Paris (Hygin. Fab. 92; Paus. v. 19.1), fastened Prometheus to Mount Caucasus (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. vi. 42), rescued Dionysus after his birth from the flames, or received him from the hands of Zeus to carry him to Athamas (Apollod. iii. 4.3; Apollon. Rhod. iv. 1137), sold Heracles to Omphale (Apollod. ii. 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. ii. 1.3.) From this murder he is very commonly called Argeiphontes (Il. xxiv. 182; comp. Schol. ad Aeschyl. Prom. 563; Ov. Met. i. 670). In the Trojan war Hermes was on the side of the Greeks (Il. xx. 72). His ministry to Zeus is not confined to the offices of herald and messenger, but he is also the charioteer and cupbearer (Hom. Od. i. 143, Il. xxiv. 178, 440, Hymn. in Cer. 380; Eustath. ad Hom.). As dreams are sent by Zeus, Hermes, the hegetor oneiron, 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. ii. 26, xxiv. 343). Another important function of Hermes was to conduct the shades of the dead from the upper into the lower world, whence he is called psuchopompos, nekropomtos, psuchagogos, &c. (Hom. Od. xxiv. 1, 9, Hymn. in Cer. 379; Eustath. ad Hom.; Diog. Laert. viii. 31; Hygin. 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. xix. 135, Il. xxiv. 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. vii. 277; Theocrit. xxv. 5; Aristoph. Plut. 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 diemporos, empolaios, palinkapelos, kerdemporos, agoraios, &c. (Aristoph. Plut. 1155; Pollux, vii. 15; Orph. Hymn. xxvii. 6; Paus. i. 15.1, ii. 9.7, iii. 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 (ploutodotes), 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. vii. 183; Aristoph. Pax, 365; Eustath. ad Hom.). 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. Pax, 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, Il. xiv. 490, xvi. 180; Hes. Theog. 444). For this reason he was especially worshipped by shepherds, and is mentioned in connection with Pan and the Nymphs (Hom. Od. xiv. 435; Eustath. ad Hom.; Aristoph. Thesm. 977; Paus. viii. 16.1; ix. 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. xxiv. 360, Od. viii. 335, xvi. 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. Nem. x. 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. Pyth. ii. 10, Isthm. i. 60; Aristoph. Plut. 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. iii. 22) distinguishes five, and Servius (ad Aen. i. 301, iv. 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 (Hygin. Fab. 225). From thence his worship was carried to Athens, and ultimately spread through all Greece. The festivals celebrated in his honour were called Hermaia. His temples and statues (Dict. of Ant. s.v. Hermae) were extremely numerous in Greece. The Romans identified him with Mercury. 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. vii. 22.2; Aristoph. Plut. 1121, 1144; Hom. Od. xiv. 435, xix. 397; Athen. i. p. 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 (rhabdos or skeptron): 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. vii. 277, xviii. 505), and secondly, a magic staff, such as other divinities also possessed (Lucian, Dial. Deor. vii. 5; Virg. Aen. iv. 242). The white ribbons with which the herald's staff was originally surrounded were changed by later artists into two serpents (Schol. ad Thuc. i. 53; Macrob. Sat. i. 19; comp. Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 7; Serv. ad Aen. iv. 242, viii. 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 (pedila.) 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 ptenopedilos, or alipes (Orph. Hymn. xxvii. 4; Ov. Met. xi. 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.

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Nov 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Surnames of Hermes


Hermes Agonius

Agonius (Agonios), a surname or epithet of several gods. Aeschylus (Agam. 513) and Sophocles (Trach. 26) use it of Apollo and Zeus, and apparently in the sense of helpers in struggles and contests (Comp. Eustath. ad Il.). But Agonius is more especially used as a surname of Hermes, who presides over all kinds of solemn contests (Agones, Paus. v. 14.7; Pind. Olymp. vi. 133, with the Schol.)


Hermes Arcas

Arcas. A surname of Hermes. (Lucan, Phars. ix. 661; Martial, ix. 34. 6)


Eriunius (Eriounios) or Erinnes

Eriunius (Eriounios) or Erinnes, the giver of good fortune, occurs as a surname of Hermes, but is also used as a proper name instead of Hermes. (Hom. Il. xxiv. 440, 457, Od. viii. 322 ; Aristoph. Ran. 1143)


Hermes Imbrasus

Imbrasus (Imbrasos) is, according to Eustathius (ad Hom.), identical with Imbramus, the surname of Hermes; but it occurs also as the name of three mythical personages. (Hom. Il. iv. 520; Virg. Aen. x. 123, xii. 343; Athen. vii.)


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