One of the great Gods of the Greek Pantheon, Hermes is the Messenger God and the Guide of the Souls (psychopompos). Additionally, he is linked to many different domains, including herding, animal husbandry, heralds, messengers, thieves, tricksters, and many more. His prominent symbols are his winged sandals (talaria) and winged helmet (petasos), as well as his staff (caduceus), the lyre he crafted for Apollo, and the tortoise.
|Parents||Zeus and Maia|
|Partner(s)||Aphrodite, Apemosyne, Brimo, Carmentis, Chione, Crocus, Daeira, Herse, Iphthime, Peitho, Penelope, Persephone, Polymele, Tanagra|
|Siblings||Olympians: Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus|
Gods and Demi-gods: Aeacus, Angelos, Eileithyia, Enyo, the goddess of war, Eris, Ersa, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, The Strongest Hero, Minos, Pandia, Persephone, The Enigmatic Queen of the Underworld, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Charites (Graces), The epitome of charm and beauty, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses, The Divine Inspirations Behind Art, Science, and Culture, the Moirai, Spinners of The Thread of Life
|Offspring||Immortal: Angelia, Eleusis, Hermaphroditos, The Oreads, Palaistra, Pan and Panes, Priapos, Satyrs|
Mortal: Abderos, Aithalides, Arabos, Autolykos, Bounos, Daphnis, Ekhion, Eleusis, Euandros, Eudoros, Eurestos, Eurytos, Kaikos, Kephalos, Keryx, Kydon, Libys, Myrtilos, Norax, Orion, Pharis, Phaunos, Polybos, Saon
Names & Others
|Other Names||Argeiphontes, Psychopompos|
|The God of||Herds and Shepherds, Heralds and Messengers, Boundaries, Trade, Thieves and Tricksters, Mischief, Language, Wealth, Animal Husbandry|
|Symbols||Winged Sandals (Talaria), Winged Helmet (Petasos), Caduceus (staff), Tortoise, Lyre, Asphodel, Hare, Hawk, Crocus|
Name and Etymology
The name Hermes is most likely derived from the Greek word herma (ἕρμα), which signified the stone heap. A close approximation is the Indo-European root *ser-, meaning to put together, to bind. Some scholars suggested that the name may also be of Pre-Greek origin, or an older form meaning “cairn”. Some even attribute it to phonetic similarity to Sarama, a Vedic deity.
His name appears in the scriptures as early as the time of Linear B. It appears in Mycenean Tablets as *hermāhās.
A common epithet of Hermes is Psychopompos, meaning the guide of souls, as he was accompanying the departed as they descended to Hades. He was also known as Argeiphontes, which means Argus’s Slayer since he killed Argus Panoptes, who had one hundred eyes. As the God of thieves, tricksters, and mischief, he was also known as Dolios, which means cunning.
It is believed that he descended from Pan, although later myths indicate that Pan was his son. The Egyptians affiliated him with Thoth, the Romans with Mercury, and there is a link with the Norse God Hermóðr, Odin’s son and Gods’ messenger.
Hermes’ Origins and Family
Hermes is most likely a pre-Greek God, linked with various pagan Gods such as the Mesopotamian Ningishzida and the Egyptian Thoth. In mythology, he is also associated with Pan, the goat-like Satyr fertility god of Arcadia. Hermes symbolized movement and he was also the leader of the Graces and the Nymphs.
Hermes was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia, who was the first of the Pleiads and the daughter of Atlas, The Titan Who Held Up the Sky and Pleione, and the second younger Olympian God. He was conceived and born in a cave on the mouintain Cyllene in Arcadia, all in a single day. Through his father, his half-siblings were the rest of the Olympians – Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaestus and Persephone. He was also the half-brother of many mortals and other deities, including Aeacus, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Minos, Perseus, and several nymphs.
Hermes never married, and he had few “famous” consorts. However, we learn about the majority of his affairs through his children. We will examine Hermes’ consorts by categorizing them according to their divine or mortal status.
Hermes and Goddesses
His most renowned love affair was with Aphrodite. Hermes seduced Aphrodite with the help of Zeus. They slept together after he stole her sandal and she tracked him down to find it. They had a kid named Hermaphroditos, a combination of his parents’ names.
Hermes was also involved with the virgin nymph Brimo or Hecate, the goddess of magic. Brimo is also linked in the tale to Daeira, a goddess of the underworld with whom Hermes had a daughter named Eleusis. He also had a brief relationship with Peitho, the goddess of persuasion.
Hermes and Nymphs
Many of his consorts were other divine entities, such as Nymphs. The most notable were the Oreiades or Oreads, who repeatedly mated with him, breeding more and more Oreads.
Other Nymphs who have had relationships with the god were:
- An Argeian Naiad called Tanagra; both Hermes and Ares pursued her. They had a boxing match, which Hermes won, thus taking the nymph with him to Boiotia
- An Arcadian Naiad named Carmentis
- An Arcadian nymph called Penelopeia (not to be confused with the queen of Ithaca)
- An Arcadian nymph called Sose; she was a prophetess of Hermes
- A nymph from Elis, Clytie
- A Samothrakean nymph called Rhene
- A Teuthranian Naiad named Okyrrhoe
Hermes and Mortal Women
As per usual, the god did not refrain from meddling in human affairs. He had numerous mortal consorts, most of whom were princesses. His most well-known affair was with a woman named Chione (or Philonis). Chione is said to have mated with both him and Apollo on the same day. She had twins: Philammon, who looked like Apollo, and Autolycus, who looked like Hermes.
His other affairs were less eventful. Among his mortal consorts were:
- An Athenian princess, Aglauros
- An Attican princess, Herse (or Creousa)
- A Cretan princess, Acalle
- A Cretan and Rhodian princess, Apemosyne, who was murdered by her brother after being impregnated by Hermes
- A Danaid named Phylodameia, one of the fifty princesses of Argos
- A Dorian princess, Iphtime; she was the mother of three Satyrs
- An Egyptian princess, Thronia
- A Libyan princess, Libye
- An Iberian princess, Erytheia
- A Malian woman, Antianeira
- A Phthian princess, Eupolemia
- A Phthian woman, Polymely
- A Sikyon queen, Chthonophyle
- A woman of Elis, Theoboule
Hermes and Mortal Men
Finally, we should mention his involvement with a few mortal men. It is said that Hermes was the lover of Perseus, the fabled hero of Argus. He also consorted Amphion, a king of Thebes.
There is also a narrative that involves Hermes being the lover of Crocus, a young man from Arcadia. He accidentally killed him as they were playing discus, and he transformed him into a crocus (saffron) flower.
Hermes also fathered a large number of mortal and immortal children. We will also divide them into two categories based on their divine or mortal nature.
Hermes is best known as the father of Pan, the goat-like God of both shepherds and hunters. There are numerous stories about Pan’s mother. She is said to be the daughter of Dryope, Thymbris, Penelopeia, Kallisto, or Orneios.
Hermes might also be the father of the Pan Agreus, through Sose, and the Pan Nomios, through Penelopeia. He was most likely also the father of Phorbas. Agreus was a hunt daemon, Nomios was a pasture daemon, and Phorbas was a grazing daemon.
Hermaphroditos was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. He was the God of hermaphrodites and effeminate humans. He was one of the Erotes.
Priapos was the son of Hermes in some narratives, though he is most commonly thought to be the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite. He was the deity of the gardens and vineyards, portrayed as a short man with a massive member, as a symbol of fertility.
Hermes also fathered three Satyrs known as Hermeides, meaning sons of Hermes. Their names were Lykos, Pronomos, and Pherespondos. Their mother was Iphthime. They were Dionysus’ messengers.
Eleusis was also the demi-goddess protector of the town of Eleusis, well known for the Eleusinian Mysteries, the festivities in the name of Demeter. She was the daughter of Hermes and Daeira.
He was also the father of Angelia, the female messenger daemon, and Palaestra, the female daemon of wrestling.
He was the father of a great number of mortal children. His most famous mortal child is possibly Orion, The Celestial Hunter, the fabled giant hunter of Greek mythology. Orion’s father is most likely Poseidon, the god of the sea, but the Boiotian narrative was that Orion was born when Hermes, Zeus, and Poseidon urinated on an oxhide and buried it on earth.
He was also the father of Autolycus, born of Chione, and brother of Philamon. He was a thief who could transform the objects that he stole. Autolycus was the father of both Anticlea, Odysseus, The Cunning Hero Of The Trojan War’ mother, and Polymede, Jason, The Leader Of The Argonauts’s mother.
Hermes also fathered Myrtilos, Theoboule’s or Klytie’s son. After being deceived by Pelops, Myrtilos cursed him and cast the curse that would torment all of Pelops’ descendants, the infamous Atreides family.
He was also the parent of numerous others, including:
- Aithalides, Eupolemeia’s son
- Arabos, Thronia’s son
- Bounos, Alkidameia’s son
- Euandros, Karmentis’ son
- Eudoros, Polymele’s son
- Eurestos, Aptale’s son
- Eurytos, Antianeira’s son
- Kaikos, Okyrrhoe’s son
- Kephalos, Herse’s or Kreousa’s son
- Keryx, Aglauros’ son
- Kydon, Akalle’s son
- Libys, Libya’s son
- Norax, Erytheia’s son
- Pharis, Phylodameia’s son
- Polybos, Chthonophyle’s son
- Saon, Rhene’s son
Depiction and Characteristics
He was a young and vibrant man, with a trickster’s demeanor. He bore the great burden of both being the Gods’ messenger as well as the souls’ guide through their journey to the Underworld.
Hermes was portrayed both as a young and an older man. As a young man, he was beardless, handsome, and very athletic. He was typically shown with curly blonde hair. As the God of Speed, he wore a winged helmet and winged sandals. He wielded a scepter and was mostly naked or dressed simply in a cape. Sometimes he was depicted as an elderly, bearded man, still wielding his herald’s wand and wearing his winged boots.
He had extraordinary speed, and he was a skilled orator and diplomat, earning him the title of patron of messengers and language, as well as eloquence.
Indeed, Hermes earned his reputation as the trickster God. From his very birth, he actively stole and deceived. For instance, as a young boy, he brazenly stole Apollo’s livestock. Similarly, the Norse god Loki also exhibited many of these trickster traits, drawing parallels between the two deities.
During the Trojan War, he was brilliant and strategic, as well as a humane leader.
Apart from being a jovial thief and the personification of mischief, he was also very responsible. He was tasked with guiding souls to the Underworld as well as accompanying heroes on their quests. He assisted Heracles in capturing Cerberus, Perseus in slaying Medusa, and Odysseus in avoiding Circe’s spell. He also accompanied Persephone, the maiden, when she returned to Earth each year from the Underworld.
He was an omnipotent God, therefore he possessed all of the Olympian characteristics: immortality, superhuman strength, invulnerability, stamina, agility, and omnipresence. He could run and fly faster than any other God since he was the God of speed. He could also effortlessly cross the plains of existence because he was also a psychopompos.
Hermes was powerful and athletic, and he excelled at hand-to-hand combat. He was a brilliant burglar as well, who could convert items into gold with his caduceus. He was also a skilled musician and orator, like his brother Apollo. He was a talented inventor, having created language (particularly the alphabet), fire, dice, and musical instruments, the most noteworthy of which were the lyre and the pan pipes.
Hermes’ Sacred Symbols
Hermes carried a few sacred emblems with him most of the time. His most recognizable emblems were his winged sandals or boots, known as Talaria, which allowed him to fly over the skies and fulfill his role as the Gods’ herald. He also wore two caps: Petasos, a winged helmet that allowed him to fly, and the Cap of Aidoneus, Hades’ cap that rendered anyone who wore it invisible.
His herald’s staff or rod, known as the Caduceus or Kerykeion, was another sacred symbol. It could be used to put mortals to sleep. In addition to his staff, he carried an adamantine or golden blade.
Sacred Animals / Plants
Hermes had a few sacred animals. The tortoise was sacred to him and has been associated with him since he was a youngster. He made the first lyre out of a tortoise shell and gave it to Apollo in exchange for a favor for stealing his livestock. He had also turned Khelone, the nymph, into a turtle.
Other sacred animals included the hare, which was noted for its prolificacy, and the hawk. He converted Daidalon and Hierax into hawks because the latter had alerted Argos Panoptes, the protector of the nymph Io, that Hermes was about to kidnap her.
The saffron flower, strawberry tree, and daffodil were Hermes’ sacred flowers. He revered the saffron flower, also known as Crocus, since it sprang from the blood of his lover, Crocus. Because it is believed that the trickster God was nurtured under the strawberry tree, the tree was sacred to him. Finally, his sacred flower was the daffodil or asphodel, as he guided the souls through asphodel fields into the Underworld.
Test your skills in the Hermes Game
Hermes’ Roles and Responsibilities
Hermes was the jovial trickster God of thieves. As a God of Thieves, he assisted people with stealing: he stole Io, Zeus’ sinews, snuck Priamos past Greek sentries, and, of course, he made his son Autolycus a master thief. As the trickster God, he was in charge of trickery, rhetoric, eloquence, and persuasion, as well as luring mortals to sleep and deceiving them.
As an articulate and swift God, he was also burdened with the function of the Gods’ herald. He was not just Zeus’ personal messenger, but also the patron of all messengers and heralds. Many staffs were fashioned after his Caduceus and used by human messengers.
Guide to the dead
Hermes was the psychopomps, meaning the guide of the dead. This role began when he was sent by Zeus to bring back Persephone to her mother, Demeter, after the maiden was abducted and held captive by Hades in the Underworld. After that mission, he was appointed the guide of the dead. He was the only God allowed to transverse all three realms of existence – Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld.
He also oversaw all elements of animal husbandry, from herding to thieving. He guarded the flocks and was the creator of musical instruments and shepherd implements, as well as the God of rustic divination. He was also the protector of guard dogs and the home.
Hermes was the patron of merchants and traders. He presided over the agora, both because of his role as a patron of shepherds and the consequent selling of their byproducts, and because his rhetoric made him influence the merchants’ “sales pitches”.
Protector of all travelers
Hermes was the God of boundaries, both literal and metaphorical, and he protected the travelers. The Hermai were stone statues made in his honor that were used as route markers (mostly known through the well-known story of their destruction by Alcibiades, an opportunistic Athenian general, during the Peloponnesian war). In terms of metaphorical boundaries, his job as the messenger between deities, mortals, and the dead made him the only God actually in control of the cycle of life and putting everything in its proper place.
Hermes, along with Mnemosyne, was the deity of learning and language. He is supposed to have devised the alphabet and to have taught many various languages to humanity (babelization). He was also an eloquent and convincing orator, qualities that his patrons – merchants, heralds, thieves, and tricksters – should have.
Additionally, people regarded him as the patron deity of athletics, contests, gambling, astronomy, sleep, omen dreams, and omen birds.
Myths About Hermes
Apollo’s Cattle And Invention Of The Lyre
Hermes has been devious since he was a toddler. A few minutes after his birth, when his mother was sleeping, he stole the god Apollo’s oxen, slaughtered some of them, and brought the remainder to his cave. Apollo, the God of Divination, became enraged when he discovered who had stolen his animals. He tracked down Maia and complained to her. Meanwhile, Hermes claimed that he was sleeping in his cradle, but Apollo took him with him to Olympus, where they both protested to Zeus – Apollo accused him of stealing the oxen, while Hermes claimed ignorance.
Zeus demanded that Hermes show Apollo the hidden oxen and insisted that Apollo stop holding grudges against Hermes. To pacify his brother, Hermes offered him the lyre he had already constructed from a tortoise shell, after returning the oxen to the god. Enchanted by the lyre’s melody, Apollo bestowed upon Hermes his staff, which he always carried with him. He also pledged to to him that he would love no other son of Zeus as much as him.
Hermes’ status as a herald has led to his appearance in numerous myths. As Zeus’s agent, he accomplished many tasks. Firstly, he summoned deities to Zeus’ and Hera’s wedding. Then, he brought Persephone back from the Underworld and forbade Poseidon from flooding Attica. After that, he delivered the royal scepter to Pelops and advised Atreus on reclaiming the throne of Mycenae. He also attempted to warn Aegisthus against murdering Agamemnon, The Mighty King and Central Figure of the Trojan War. Lastly, he commanded Calypso to release Odysseus, among other deeds.
He has also functioned as a Zeus enforcer, assisting in the chaining of Prometheus, The Titan Who Defied Zeus for stealing the fire, the eternal binding of Sisyphus, the crafty king of Corinth for attempting to fool death, slaughtering Argos Panoptes and freeing Io, and punishing Agrios and Oreios for killing and eating anybody who visited their home.
Zeus has also used him for his thievery abilities in stealing Io from Argos, Typhoeus’ sinews, Ares from the Aloadai giants who kept him trapped in a jar, and – according to Euripides – Helen from Troy, delivering her to Egypt, and leaving a replica in her stead.
Hermes has also been a contest leader in the Danaides’ marriage, Pelias’ funeral games, the Golden Apple contest, and the musical contest in which the mountain Kithairon sang against the peak Helikon.
The Trojan War
During the Trojan War, Hermes played a crucial role. Even though Homer presents him as assisting Priamos, the Trojan king, in saving the lifeless body of his son, Hector, he was actually supporting the Achaeans. He has aided Odysseus in particular by allowing him to plant a root that will aid him in resisting Circe.
Hermes In Other Myths
He also had a smaller or lesser role in other ancient Greek myths.
War of The Giants
When the Gigantes (Giants) declared war on Heaven, Hermes battled and killed the Giant Hippolytos with his golden sword. In ancient paintings of combat, he was commonly represented holding his sword against this Giant.
Flight From Typhoeus
Typhoeus or Typhon was a monstrous beast that besieged Olympus. The Olympians all fled to Egypt, where they saved themselves by transforming into animals in Pan’s flock. Zeus was the only one who remained to battle Typhoeus. Zeus was entirely defenseless after the beast snatched his sinews. Hermes then returned Zeus’ sinews and assisted him in regaining his strength.
The Creation Of Pandora
When Zeus wanted to create a woman that would destroy the mortals, after Prometheus stole the fire to help them, he commissioned the Gods to give her their best qualities. Hermes was the one who bestowed on her trickery and deceitfulness.
The Wrath Of Hermes
Hermes was not a very vindictive God. However, he punished a few mortals, as we have already seen with Pelops and Hierax.
Agraulos was a princess from Athens who demanded wealth from Hermes to let him sleep with Herse, her sister. However, she became jealous of her and tried to stop him from going into Herse’s chambers. For that reason, he turned her into stone.
Agrios and Oreios were two giants who killed and ate whoever visited their home. Hermes, being the God of travelers and hospitality, punished them by transforming them into birds.
Agron was a prince on the island of Kos who accused Hermes of being a plain thief. He turned him into a plover.
Battos was a Pylian man who revealed to Apollo where Hermes kept his cattle. For that, he turned him into stone as punishment.
Chelone was a nymph who did not attend the marriage of Zeus and Hera. Thus, Hermes turned her into a tortoise.
The Favor Of Hermes
On the other hand, he was a known benefactor of mortals. He was the God of hospitality, after all, and the patron of many different types of people.
Hermes favored many people by providing hospitality and sanctuary. One of them was Hyrieus, a man who treated Zeus, Poseidon, and him so well that the Gods chose to give him the son he had always desired, Orion. He also aided Nephele by bestowing her a golden-fleeced ram to help her save her children, Phrixus and Helle, from their father, Athamas, who desired to sacrifice them. As previously stated, the herald God also assisted Odysseus with Circe, and Priamos in rescuing his son’s lifeless body from the hostile Greek camp during the Trojan War. As a sign of friendship, he had also gifted the twins Castor and Pollux a pair of magical horses.
Hermes, as a psychopomp, had also favored Heracles (Hercules) by leading him to the Underworld to catch Cerberus. The god also favored a human woman, Laodameia, who was so overcome with grief after her husband’s death that Zeus asked Hermes to bring him back from the Underworld to visit her.
As a skilled musician, he favored the storyteller Aesop by inspiring him to write his fables. He also favored Amphion by teaching him how to play flawlessly, Cadmus and Orpheus by bestowing a lyre on each of them, and Daphnis, a young Sicilian boy, to whom Hermes taught pastoral poetry.
He was also a good father, favoring many of his children in various situations. For one he gave Aithalides perfect memory. Secondly he gave Autolykos the skill of metamorphosing the object he stole. Third he gave life to Myrtilos’ curses against the Atreides. Lastly he gave Hermaphroditos the power to turn men effeminate.
Hermes in Ancient Greek Religion
He was a God who was greatly loved in Ancient Greece. His face appeared all over Greece, on the boundary markers Hermai. As a deity, he was usually revered alongside Aphrodite.
Sites Sacred to Hermes
As an Arcadian God, it’s no surprise that most of his shrines are in Arcadia. The mountain of Cyllene was likely his first major worship spot. What’s more, many temples celebrated both Hermes and Aphrodite. You’ll find these temples all over Greece, from Samos and Arcadia to Crete and Attica.
There were also Hermai statues all over Greece, which served as road limits. As the patron of wrestling and athletics in general, there were sculptures of him in the gymnasiums.
Worship & Festivals
Hermes’ most well-known festival was the Hermaea, which was celebrated in the town of Feneos on Mt Cyllene. It was an athletic festival with competitions. There was also an Athenian version of Hermaea, with the competitions primarily involving teenagers. Moreover, in Cydonia, Crete, people performed the Hermaea, where a social order inversion took place, and masters served their slaves. Many accounts suggest that many Greek cities originally celebrated the Hermaea.
Representations in Art
Hermes, with his intricate nature, actively took on various forms as a God. Not only did he share musical skills with Apollo, but he also famously stole Apollo’s cattle, further strengthening their association. Typically, artists portray Hermes with his petasos, talaria, and caduceus, making him a prominent figure among the Olympian representations. Moreover, both black-figure and red-figure vases vividly capture the scene of Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle. Additionally, Giambologna’s bronze statue showcases Hermes in his role as a herald, emphasizing his swift nature.
Naturally, Praxiteles crafted the most celebrated artistic representation of him, and you can now find this famous statue at the Olympia museum. Originally, it presided over the temple of Hera at the site. Additionally, many ancient Greek cups and vases depict Hermes as a psychopompos. Furthermore, a marble relief from the Agora of Athens shows him escorting Eurydice to the Underworld.
Many vases from ancient Greece and Rome depict Hermes rescuing or holding the child Dionysus. Additionally, “The Triumph of Dionysus” features him prominently, and Poussin created a sarcophagus called “The Birth of Bacchus.”
In The Old Texts
Hermes appears frequently in Greek literature.
In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, particularly through his interactions with Priamos, Odysseus, and others, Hermes actively serves as a psychopomp and demonstrates his role as a strategic, articulate God.
In the Odyssey, he is also the God who appears to be the most helpful in Odysseus’ return to Ithaca. The Homeric Hymns include most of the information about his involvement in stealing Apollo’s livestock.
He has also been the subject of Greek and Roman lyric poetry, as evidenced by Callimachus and Ovid’s writings. Ovid, in particular, provides a wealth of information on God’s various roles and love affairs.
Hermes was the messenger trickster God, patron of heralds, traders, and thieves, and guide of the souls to the Underworld.
Zeus and the nymph Maia.
Hermes was the God of animal husbandry, tricksters and thieves, traders and merchants, roads and travelers, heralds and messengers, the Oratory and omens, speech and persuasion, athletics and wrestling, and, of course, the psychopompos.
The Hermai were pillars of stone with a depiction of the Hermes, used in Greek roads as boundaries.
He closely resembles the Norse god Hermod (Hermóðr).
Play Hermes’ Games
Do you share the same love for travel and mischief with Hermes? Find out by playing this game!
- Hymn 28 to Hermes
- Metamorphoses 2.552, 2.708, 4.288, 14.291
- Cratylus 400d
- Phaedo 107c, 112e
- Astronomica 2.7
- Fabulae 277
- Argonautica 1.730
Featured Image Credit: Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons