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HERMES GOD OF
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Roman Name
Ἑρμης Hermês Hermes Mercury
OTHER HERMES PAGES

Hermes Intro, Index & Gallery
Hermes Myths 1, Part 2, Part 3
Hermes Wrath
Hermes Favour
Hermes Family
Hermes Loves
Hermes Estate & Attributes
Hermes Cult
Hermes Titles & Epithets
Hermes Summary

HERMES was the great Olympian god of herds, travel, trade, heraldry, language, athletics and thievery. This page describes his divine roles and privileges including:--

1. Hermes God of Animal Husbandry
2. Hermes God of Heralds
3. Hermes God of Birds of Omen
4. Hermes God of Thieves & Trickery
5. Hermes God of Trade & Merchants
6. Hermes God of Language & Crafty Wiles
7. Hermes God of Roads, Travellers & Hospitality
8. Hermes God of Feasts & Banquets
9. Hermes God Protector of the Home
10. Hermes Guide of the Dead
11. Hermes God of Sleep & Dreams of Omen
12. Hermes God of Rustic Divination
13. Hermes God of Contests, Gymnasiums & the Games
14. Hermes God of Astronomy & the Calendar
15. Hermes God of Rustic Music, Poetry & Animal Fables
16. Mercury, the Star of Hermes
17. Identifications with Foreign Gods

The information here is best read in conjunction with the Cult of Hermes and Titles & Epithets pages.


GOD OF ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

Hermes was the god of animal husbandry, including cattle-herding, shepherding, goat-herding and even the breeding of horses and mules. In this role he represented both the protection and flourishing of the herds and their destruction by wild beasts (lions, wolves, boars, birds of prey). He was also the god of cattle-thieves.

I) GOD OF HERDS & FLOCKS

Hesiod, Theogony 444 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"She [Hekate] is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock.The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less."

Homer, Iliad 14. 491 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Ilioneus the son of Phorbas the rich in sheep flocks, whom beyond all men of the Trojans Hermes loved, and gave him possessions [i.e. by multiplying his flocks]."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 490 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"[Hermes trades with Apollon the godhead of music for the godhead of cattle:] ‘I will give you this lyre, glorious son of Zeus, while I for my part will graze down with wild-roving cattle the pastures on hill and horse-feeding plain: so shall the cows covered by the bulls calve abundantly both males and females . . .’
When Hermes had said this, he held out the lyre: and Phoibos Apollon took it, and readily put his shining [cattle] whip in Hermes' hand, and ordained him keeper of herds."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 560 ff :
"[Hermes] tends the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules . . . Zeus himself . . . commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord over all birds of prey and grim-eyed lions, and boars with gleaming tusks [i.e. the predators of herds], and over [herder's] dogs and all the herds and flocks that the wide earth nourishes, and over all sheep."

Aristophanes,Thesmophoriazusae 970 ff (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"I also pray Hermes, the god of the shepherds, and Pan."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 3. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes is the god who is thought most to care for and to increase flocks, as Homer puts it in the Iliad: - ‘Son was he of Phorbas, the dearest of Trojans to Hermes, rich in flocks, for the god vouchsafed him wealth in abundance.’"

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5. 15 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"[The shepherd Aesop] poured a libation of as much milk as a sheep would give at one milking in honour of Hermes, and brought a honeycomb and laid it on the altar, big enough to fill the hand, and he thought of regaling the god with myrtle berries, or perhaps by laying just a few roses or violets at the altar. ‘For,’ said he, ‘would you, O Hermes, have me weave crowns for you and neglect my sheep?’"

See also Hermes God of Guard Dogs and Hermes Cult: the Hermai
For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of herders see:
(1) Hermes' Theft of Apollon's Cattle (how Hermes became god of cattle-herding)
(2) Hermes & the Birth of Pan (fathered the god disguised as a shepherd)
(3) Hermes & Argos Panoptes
(4) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Cattle-Herder


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II) INVENTOR OF RUSTIC TOOLS & ARTS

Hermes was described as the inventor of the tools and implements of shepherds and herders. From fire-sticks, to withers for tying animals, and the rural boundary stones (hermai).
He was also the inventor of the various rustic arts: the primitive shepherd's lyre made from a tortoise-shell, shepherd's pipes, and pastoral poetry and fable.

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 110 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"[The infant god Hermes] began to seek the art of fire. He chose a stout laurel branch and trimmed it with the knife held firmly in his hand: and the hot smoke rose up. For it was Hermes who first invented fire-sticks and fire. Next he took many dried sticks and piled them thick and plenty in a sunken trench: and flame began to glow, spreading afar the blast of fierce-burning fire."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 409 ff :
"Apollon twisted strong withes with his hands meaning to bind Hermes with firm bands; but the bands would not hold him, and the withes of osier fell far from him and began to grow at once from the ground beneath their feet in that very place. And intertwining with one another, they quickly grew and covered all the wild-roving cattle by the will of deceiving (klepsiphron) Hermes [the invention of animal bindings]."

See also Hermes God of Rustic Poetry and Music
For MYTHS OF Hermes as the inventor of rustic tools and implements see:
1 Hermes' Theft of Apollon's Cattle
2 Hermes Inventor of Rustic Lyre & Shepherds' pipes
3 Hermes Wrath: Battos (origin of the rural boundary stone)
For FABLES of Hermes as the god of rustics see Hermes & the Fables of Aesop


GOD OF HERALDS & BRINGER OF PEACE

Hermes was the personal herald of Zeus, the king of the Gods, and the patron-god of all heralds. His kadukeios (the herald's staff) was the device of office held by official messengers in ancient Greece. It was derived from the old cattle-herder's crock.
Hermes appears as the herald of Zeus in many myths.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 513 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Herald: And the gods gathered here, I greet them all; him, too, my own patron, Hermes, beloved herald (kerykos), of heralds all revered."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 953 ff :
"Swollen with pride is your [Hermes'] speech, as befits a minion of the gods."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 967 ff :
"Hermes . . . the trusted messenger of Father Zeus."

Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 220 ff :
"Here, too, is [by the altar is a statue of] Hermes, according to the Hellenic custom. May he then announce good tidings to the free!"

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 115 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Zeus made Hermes his personal herald."

Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . messenger of Zeus . . . Whose hand contains of blameless peace the rod, Korykion, blessed."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 7 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When Mercury [Hermes], holding it in his hand, was journeying to Arcadia and saw two snakes with bodies intertwined, apparently fighting, he put down the staff between them. They separated then, and so he said that the staff had been appointed to bring peace. Some, in making caducei, put two snakes intertwined on the rod, because this seemed to Mercury a bringer of peace."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 291 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Cyllenius [Hermes], who brings the boon of peace [i.e. as god of heralds and diplomacy]."

See also:
(1) Hermes God of Birds of Omen (messages from the gods)
(2) Hermes God of Dreams of Omen (messages from gods & the spirits of the dead)
For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of heralds see:
(1) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Herald


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HERALD

GOD OF BIRDS OF OMEN

Hermes was the god of the birds of omen, birds despatched from heaven under the divine inspiration of prophetic Apollon. Only seers, under the god's patronage, could distinguish birds of omen from those "idly-chattering" and interpret their divine messages.
Hermes was heaven's herald and so was naturally regarded as the source of those other winged messengers of heaven - the birds of omen.

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 526 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Apollon sware also: ‘Verily I will make you [Hermes] only to be an omen for the immortals and all alike, trusted and honoured by my heart. Moreover, I will give you a splendid staff of riches and wealth: it is of gold, with three branches, and will keep you scatheless, accomplishing every task, whether of words or deeds that are good, which I claim to know through the utterance of Zeus.
‘But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that. I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus. And do not you, my brother, bearer of the golden wand (khrysorrapis), bid me tell those decrees which all-seeing Zeus intends. As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men.
‘Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey; yet his gifts I would take . . .’
And from heaven father Zeus himself gave confirmation to his words, and commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord over all birds of omen "

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 21 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Zeus loathed them [the giants Agrios and Oreios] and sent Hermes to punish them . . . [and] Hermes he changed them into birds. Polyphonte became a small owl . . . she is a portent of war and sedition for mankind. Oreios became an eagle owl, a bird that presages little good to anyone when it appears . . . Their female servant was changed into a woodpecker. As she was changing her shape she prayed to the gods not to become a bird evil for mankind. Hermes and Ares heard her prayer because she had by necessity done what her masters had ordered. This a bird of good omen for someone going hunting or to feasts."


GOD OF GUILE

Hermes was the god of guile in its many aspects: including deception, crafty words, persuasion, and the wiles of thieves and merchants. He also employed the sleep to maze the minds of men. See the various sections below for more information.

Hesiod, Works and Days 80 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"And the Guide Argeiphontes [Hermes] contrived within her [Pandora, the first woman] lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods put speech in her."

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 811 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"May Maia's son [Hermes], as he rightfully should, lend his aid [to Orestes in the slaying of the murderers of his father, using a false identity and guile to gain access], for no one can better sail a deed on a favoring course, when he would do so. But by his mysterious utterance he brings darkness over men's eyes by night, and by day he is no more clear at all."

See also the sections below: Hermes God of Thieves, God of Merchants, God of Wiles
For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of guile see:
Hermes & the Creation of Pandora


GOD OF THIEVES & CATTLE HUSTLING

Another role of Hermes, derived from his function as the god of cattle, was thievery. A major form of banditry in ancient Greece was cattle-hustling.

Homer, Iliad 24. 24 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Akhilleus in his standing fury outraged [the corpse] or great Hektor. The blessed gods as they looked down upon him [from heaven] were filled with compassion and kept urging clear-sighted (euskopos) Argeiphontes to steal the body."

Homer, Odyssey 19. 396 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Autolykos . . . excelled all mankind in thieving and subtlety of oaths, having won this mastery from the god Hermes himself."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 14 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes], of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle rustler, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 138 ff :
"The god [Hermes after his thieving] went straight back again at dawn to the bright crests of Kyllene, and no one met him on the long journey either of the blessed gods or mortal men, nor did any dog bark. And luck-bringing (eriounes) Hermes, the son of Zeus, passed edgeways through the key-hole of the hall like the autumn breeze, even as mist: straight through the cave he went and came to the rich inner chamber, walking softly, and making no noise as one might upon the floor [i.e. his thievish ability to avoid detection]."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 178 ff :
"[The infant Hermes to his mother Maia:] ‘I will go to Pytho to break into his great house [the temple of Apollon], and will plunder therefrom splendid tripods, and cauldrons, and gold, and plenty of bright iron, and much apparel; and you shall see it if you will.’" - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 178

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 282 ff :
"[Apollon to the infant Hermes:] ‘O rogue, deceiver, crafty in heart . . . I most surely believe that you have broken into many a well-built house and stripped more than one poor wretch bare this night, gathering his goods together all over the house without noise. You will plague many a lonely herdsman in mountain glades, when you come on herds and thick-fleeced sheep, and have a hankering after flesh . . . you comrade of dark night. Surely hereafter this shall be your title amongst the deathless gods, to be called the prince of robbers (arkhos pheleteon) continually.’"

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 409 ff :
"Apollon twisted strong withes with his hands meaning to bind Hermes with firm bands; but the bands would not hold him, and the withes of osier fell far from him [i.e. a thief that cannot be captured]."

Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . to rejoice is thine . . . in fraud divine."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 373 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Into the house came Hermes in the shape of a young man, unforeseen, uncaught, eluding the doorkeeper with his robber's foot."

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of thieves see:
(1) Hermes' Theft of Apollon's Cattle (how Hermes became the god of thieves)
(2) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Thief
(3) Hermes & Argos Panoptes (theft of the cow-shaped maiden Io)
(4) Hermes & the Giant Typhoeus (theft of the sinews of Zeus)
(5) Hermes Favour: Autolykos (makes his son a master thief)
(6) Hermes & the Trojan War (sneaks King Priamos past the Greek sentries)
For FABLES of Hermes as the god of thieves see:
(1) Hermes in the Fables of Aesop


GOD OF TRADE & MERCHANTS

Hermes was the god of trade and the patron-god of merchants. He was one of the deities who presided over the agora (or city-market). This was a natural extension of his role as the god of animal-husbandry, as cattle, sheep and goats and their by-products were brought to market to sell. Also as the god of thievery, wiliness, and eloquent speech, he presided over both skillful and dubious merchantile actions.

Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . With power endued all language to explain, of care the loosener, and the source of gain . . . blessed, profitable God."

Suidas s.v. Hermes (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"They say he [Hermes] was responsible for profit and an overseer of the businesses: consequently they set up the statue of him weighing a purse."

Suidas s.v. Deilakrion :
"Deilakrion (Poor fellow): Hermes was called [this], because he was greedy. For when pieces of meat were shown to him, he dug in right away."

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of merchants see:
(1) Hermes Inventor of Lyre and Pipe (how Hermes became the god of trade)
(2) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Merchant
For FABLES of Hermes as the god of merchants see:
(1) Hermes in the Fables of Aesop


GOD OF LANGUAGE, LEARNING & CRAFTY WILES

Hermes came to be regarded as the god of language, alongside Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory). He was said to have been the inventor of writing, which in ancient Greece was first employed in the missives carried by heralds and the stock-taking of merchants and property owners. In addition, he was sometimes said to have taught mankind their many tongues, and so was the god of the "babelisation" of language, so to speak.

As well as writing, he presided over eloquence and persuasion, skills employed by those under his patronage: heralds, merchants, thieves and conmen. Similarly he was the god of crafty thoughts and wiles, and the use of persuasive deception and trickery.

I) GOD OF SPEECH, CRAFTY WORDS & ELOQUENCE

Hesiod, Works and Days 80 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Also the Guide, Argeiphontes [Hermes], contrived within her [Pandora, the first woman] lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods [Hermes] put speech in her."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 4 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes], of many shifts, blandly cunning."

Plato, Cratylus 400d & 408a ff (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods:]
Sokrates: Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . This name 'Hermes' seems to me to have to do with speech; he is an interpreter (hêrmêneus) and a messenger, is wily and deceptive in speech, and is oratorical. All this activity is concerned with the power of speech. Now, as I said before, eirein denotes the use of speech; moreover, Homer often uses the word emêsato, which means ‘contrive.’ From these two words, then, the lawgiver imposes upon us the name of this god who contrived speech and the use of speech--eirein means ‘speak’--and tells us : ‘Ye human beings, he who contrived speech (eirein emêsato) ought to be called Eiremes by you.’ We, however, have beautified the name, as we imagine, and call him Hermes. Iris also seems to have got her name from eirein, because she is a messenger."

Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . prophet of discourse . . . Of various speech, whose aid in works we find, and in necessities to mortal kind. Dire weapon of the tongue, which men revere, be present, Hermes, and thy suppliant hear; assist my works, conclude my life with peace, give graceful speech, and memory’s increase."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5. 15 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"Many people . . . resorted to the temple of Hermes asking for the gift of wisdom [and offered him rich presents] . . . Now when on the appointed day they arrived of the distribution of the gifts of wisdom, Hermes as the god of wisdom and eloquence and also of rewards, said to him who, as you may well suppose, had made the biggest offering: ‘Here is philosophy for you’; and to him who had made the next handsomest present he said: ‘Do you take your place among the orators’; and to others he said: ‘You shall have the gifts of astronomy or you shall be a musician, or you shall be an epic poet and write in heroic metre, or you shall be a write of iambics."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 8. 110 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Hera began to coax wily Apate (Deceit) with wily words, hoping to have revenge on her husband: ‘Good greeting, lady of wily mind and wily snares! Not Hermes Hoax-the-wits himself can outdo you with his plausible prittle-prattle!’"

Suidas s.v. Hermes (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Hermes: This is what they call a son of Zeus and Maia, which is, of mind and sense. For the word is engendered from mind and sense. On account of this they also make him winged, as if to be swift. For nothing is swifter than a word. And [that is why] Homer [says] ‘winged words’. They create [images of] him as the youngest of all [the gods], because the word does not grow old; but they also make him quadrangular on account of the firmness of the true word. They also say he was responsible for profit and an overseer of the businesses: consequently they set up the statue of him weighing a purse."

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of crafty wiles see:
(1) Hermes & the Theft of Apollon's Cattle
(2) Hermes & the Creation of Pandora
For FABLES of Hermes as the god of intelligence and crafty wiles see:
(1) Hermes in the Fables of Aesop (Intelligence)
(2) Hermes in the Fables of Aesop (Merchants)
(3) Hermes in the Fables of Aesop (Thieves)

II) GOD OF LANGUAGES & WRITING

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 143 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Men for many centuries before lived without town or laws, speaking one tongue under the rule of Jove [Zeus]. But after Mercurius [Hermes] had explained [or created] the languages of men (whence he is called ermeneutes, ‘interpreter’, for Mercurius in Greek is called Ermes; he too, divided the nations), then discord arose among mortals, which was not pleasing to Jove [Zeus]."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 277 :
"First Inventors. The Parcae [Moirai, Fates], Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters - A B H T I U. Others say that Mercurius [Hermes] invented them from the flight of cranes, which, when they fly, form letters - W E Z F; Epicharmus of Sicily, two - P and Q. The Greek letters Mercurius [Hermes] is said to have brought to Egypt, and from Egypt Cadmus took them to Greece. Cadmus [not Kadmos but Euandros, son of Hermes and Karmentis] in exile from Arcadia, took them to Italy, and his mother Carmenta changed them to Latin to the number of 15. Apollo on the lyre added the rest [of the letters]."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 19 :
"Triangle [Triangulum]. This constellation, which has three angles like the Greek letter Delta, is so named for that reason. Mercury [Hermes] is thought to have placed it above the head of Aries (the Ram), so that the dimness of Aries might be marked by its brightness, wherever it should be, and that it should form the first letter in the name of Jove [Zeus] (in Greek, Dis)."

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of language see:
(1) Hermes & the "Babelisation of Language (the Greek "Tower of Babel" story)
See also Hermes Identified with Foreign Gods (Egyptian Thoth) (this page)

III) GOD OF MEMORY & LEARNING

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 420 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"First among the gods he [Hermes in his first song on the newly invented lyre] honoured Mnemosyne, mother of the Mousai, in his song; for the son of Maia was of her following [i.e. both presided over aspects of language]."

Callimachus, Iambi Fragment 21 (from Etymologicum Florentine s.v. o tan) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"We ask the boon of learning easily, the gift of Hermes."

Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . prophet of discourse . . . Of various speech, whose aid in works we find . . . give graceful speech, and memory’s increase."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5. 15 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"Many people . . . resorted to the temple of Hermes asking for the gift of wisdom [and offered him rich presents] . . . Now when on the appointed day they arrived of the distribution of the gifts of wisdom, Hermes as the god of wisdom and eloquence and also of rewards, said to him who, as you may well suppose, had made the biggest offering: ‘Here is philosophy for you’; and to him who had made the next handsomest present he said: ‘Do you take your place among the orators’; and to others he said: ‘You shall have the gifts of astronomy or you shall be a musician, or you shall be an epic poet and write in heroic metre, or you shall be a write of iambics.’"


GOD OF ROADS, TRAVELLERS & HOSPITALITY

Hermes was the god of roads and travel. The first roads in ancient Greece were marked with primitive stone statues of the god called Hermai, fertility-totems, originally connected with his role as the god of cattle (above).
As the god of merchants and heralds as well as the roads themselves, he also became the patron-god and protector of all travellers, who, along with Zeus presided over the laws of hospitality.

I) GOD PROTECTOR OF TRAVELLERS

Homer, Iliad 24. 334 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Zeus to Hermes:] ‘Hermes, for to you beyond all other gods it is dearest to be man’s companion, and you listen to whom you will, go now on your way, and so guide Priamos inside the hollow ships of the Akhaians, that no man shall see him, none be aware of him, of the other Danaans, till he has come to the son of Peleus.’"

Aeschylus, Eumenides 89 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Apollon:] ‘You, Hermes, my blood brother, born of the same father, watch over him [Orestes, hounded by the Erinyes]; true to your name, be his guide (pompaios), shepherding this suppliant of mine – truly Zeus respects this right of outlaws – as he is sped on towards mortals with the fortune of a good escort [to Athens for purification].’"

II) GOD OF THE ROADS

Suidas s.v. Trikephalos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Trikephalos (Three-Headed): [title of] Hermes, in the role of someone teaching about the roads and bearing an inscription indicating where this road leads, and where that."

The Hermai, phallic statues of Hermes, often set upon a heap of stones, were sometimes used as roadside markers.

III) GOD OF HOSPITALITY

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of hospitality see:
(1) Hermes Favour: Philemon & Baukis
(2) Hermes Blessings: Hyrieus
(3) Hermes & the Trojan War (guides King Priamos safely to Akhilleus) 
(4) Hermes Wrath: Agrios & Oreios
For FABLES of Hermes as the god of hospitality see:
(1) Hermes in the Fables of Aesop (Hospitality)

IV) GOD OF SEARCHERS

Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 919 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"King: To what patrons of your land was your notice given [by men in search of women who had fled the country]?
Herald: To Hermes, the Searcher (mastêrios), greatest of patrons (proxenos)."


GOD OF FEASTS & BANQUETS

As the god of animal husbandry, Hermes was also the god of meat and feasting. Alongside Hestia (goddess of the hearth) he presided over the banquet.

Homer, Odyssey 15. 319 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Odysseus disguised as a beggar:] ‘I must tell you - listen, and mark my words - that by favour of Hermes the Messenger (diaktoros) who gives all men's work what grace it has and what praise it wins, no one alive can match me in common tasks - in laying a fire as it should be laid, in splitting dry logs and carving [the meat] and cooking and wine-pouring - all the services lesser men perform for the great [i.e. the preparation and serving of the feast].’"

Homer, Odyssey 7. 137 ff :
"Odysseus stepped quickly over the threshold into the palace [of King Alkinous of the Phaiakians]. He found the Phaiakian lords and rulers pouring libations from their cups to the een-sighted (euskopos) Radiant One (Argeiphontes) [Hermes] to whom by custom they poured libation last when they turned their thoughts to the night’s rest."

Homer, Odyssey 14. 435 ff :
"[Eumaios the swine-herd of Odysseus] spitted the pieces [of a hog], roasted them carefully, took them all off again, then heaped them on serving-dishes. The swineherd stood up to portion them out justly, as was his way. He divided the whole into seven portions, assigning one, with the due prayer, to the Nymphai and to Hermes son of Maia, and giving the rest to the diners one by one."

Homeric Hymn 29 to Hestia (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Hestia, in the high dwellings of all . . . you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet . . . and you, Argeiphontes [Hermes] . . . be favourable and help us, you and Hestia, the worshipful and dear. Come and dwell in this glorious house in friendship together [to bless the feast]."


GOD PROTECTOR OF THE HOME

Hermes was the god of hospitality and in a similar vein was also regarded as the protector of the home, alongside Zeus Herkeios and Hestia the goddess of the hearth. Shrines to the god were erected on the doorstep to protect the sanctity of the home and avert thievery (the opposite aspect of Hermes).

Homeric Hymn 29 to Hestia (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Hestia, in the high dwellings of all . . . you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet . . . And you, Argeiphontes [Hermes], Son of Zeus and Maia, messenger of the blessed gods (angelos makaron), bearer of the golden rod (khrysorrapis), giver of good (dotor eaon), be favourable and help us, you and Hestia, the worshipful and dear. Come and dwell in this glorious house in friendship together; for you two, well knowing the noble actions of men, aid on their wisdom and their strength. Hail, Daughter of Kronos, and you also, Hermes of the golden rod (khrysorrapis)! Now I will remember you and another song also."

See also Hermes God of Guard Dogs (this page)


GOD OF GUARD DOGS

Hermes was the god of guard dogs, both those that guarded the herds (as the god of animal husbandry) and those that protected houses and shrines (as the god protector of the home, and averter of thieves).

Hesiod, The Great Eoiae Frag 16 (from Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 23) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"He [Hermes] cast upon the dogs which were guarding them [the guard dogs of the cattle of Apollon] a stupor and strangles, so that the dogs forgot the cows and lost the power of barking."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 560 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Zeus himself . . . commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord . . . over dogs and all the herds and flocks."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 140 ff :
"Fierce-eyed hounds followed the cows [of Apollon, stolen by Hermes], four of them, all of one mind, like men. These were left behind [i.e. evaded by Hermes the master thief]."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 144 ff :
"The god [Hermes] went straight back again at dawn to the bright crests of Kyllene [after stealing the cattle of Apollon] . . . nor did any dog bark [in warning]."


GUIDE OF THE DEAD

I) GUIDE OF THE SOULS OF THE DEAD TO HAIDES

Hermes as the driver of animal herds also became the god who drove or guided the souls of the dead to Haides.
In the Eleusinian myth of the abduction of Persephone, he was sent by Zeus to fetch the goddess back from Haides, and was thereafter appointed as the Guide of Dead Souls.

Homer, Odyssey 24. 1 & 99 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Hermes Kyllenios (of Mt Kyllene) began to summon the suitors' ghosts [at dawn’s first light]; he held in his hand the golden rod that he uses to lull men's eyes asleep when he so wills, or again to wake others from their slumber; with this he roused them and led them on, and they followed him, thinly gibbering. As in a recess of some eerie cave a chain of bats may be hanging downwards from the rock, but one of them drops from the clinging cluster and then all the rest flit squeaking round, so did these ghosts travel on together squeaking, while easeful Hermes led them down through the ways of dankness. They passed the streams of Okeanos, the White Rock (leukas petre), the Gates of the Sun (pylai helion) and the Land of Dreams (demos oneiron), and soon they came to the Field of Asphodel (leimon asphodelon) where the souls (psykhai), the phantoms of the dead (eidola) have their habitation . . .
Hermes the Radiant One (Argeiphontes) drew near [to the gathering of the ghosts of heroes], leading down the souls of the suitors who had fallen by Odysseus' hand. Amazed to see this, the two heroes [Akhilleus and Agamemnon] moved straight towards them [and queried the newly arrived shades]."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 560 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Zeus himself . . . commanded that glorious Hermes . . . only should be the appointed messenger to Haides, who, though he takes no gift, shall give him no mean prize [perhaps meaning that, in return, Haides and Persephone send grass up from the earth for the grazing of herds]."

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 619 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Skylla] despoiled Nisos of his immortal lock as he drew breath in unsuspecting sleep. And Hermes [i.e. as the guide to death] overtook him."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 112-115 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Zeus made Hermes his personal herald and messenger of the gods beneath the earth."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 32. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"To Hermes . . . are attached traditions from the poems of Homer: that Hermes is the minister of Zeus and leads the souls of the departed down to Haides."

Plato, Phaedo 107c ff (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"It is said that after death, the tutelary genius (daimon) of each person, to whom he had been allotted in life, leads him to a place where the dead are gathered together [i.e. the daimon guide is Plato's equivalent of Hermes, Guide of the Dead]; then they are judged [i.e. by the Judges of the Dead] and depart to the other world with the guide whose task it is to conduct thither those who come from this world [i.e. the spirit Iakkhos]; and when they have there received their due and remained through the time appointed, another guide [probably Dionysos] brings them back after many long periods of time [i.e. they are reincarnated].
And the journey is not as Telephos says in the play of Aiskhylos; for he says a simple path leads to Haides (the lower world), but I think the path is neither simple nor single, for if it were, there would be no need of guides, since no one could miss the way to any place if there were only one road. But really there seem to be many forks of the road and many windings; this I infer from the rites and ceremonies practiced here on earth [i.e. the Mystery cults]. Now the orderly and wise soul follows its guide and understands its circumstances; but the soul that is desirous of the body, as I said before, flits about it, and in the visible world for a long time [i.e. as a haunting ghost], and after much resistance and many sufferings is led away with violence and with difficulty by its appointed genius (daimon)." [N.B. "led away with violence" cf. the story of the runaway ghost Sisyphos and Hermes.]

Plato, Phaedo 112e :
"Now when the dead have come to the place where each is led by his genius (daimon) [i.e. by Plato's equivalent of Hermes, Guide of the Dead], first they are judged and sentenced [i.e. by the Judges of the Dead], as they have lived well and piously, or not. And those who are found to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the Akheron and, embarking upon vessels provided for them [i.e. the equivalent of Kharon's skiff], arrive in them at the lake; there they dwell and are purified [i.e. by the equivalent of the Erinyes], and if they have done any wrong they are absolved by paying the penalty for their wrong doings, and for their good deeds they receive rewards, each according to his merits."

Orphic Hymn 57 to Chthonian Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes, I call, whom fate decrees to dwell near to Kokytos, the famed stream of Haides, and in necessity's (ananke) dread path, whose bourn to none that reach it ever permits return. O Bakkheios Hermes, progeny divine of Dionysos, parent of the vine, and of celestial Aphrodite, Paphian queen, dark-eyelashed Goddess, of a lovely mien: who constant wanderest through the sacred seats where Haides’ dread empress, Persephone, retreats; to wretched souls the leader of the way, when fate decrees, to regions void of day. Thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly, or lulls to slumberous rest the weary eye; for Persephone, through Tartaros dark and wide, gave thee for ever flowing souls to guide. Come, blessed power, the sacrifice attend, and grant thy mystics’ works a happy end."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 251 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Those who, by permission of the Parcae [Moirai, Fates], returned from the lower world . . . Mercurius [Hermes], son of Maia , in constant trips."

Tryphiodorus, The Taking of Ilias 568 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C5th A.D.) :
"And Haides shuddered [at the slaughter of the Sack of Troy] and looked forth from his seat under earth, afraid lest in the great anger of Zeus Hermes, conductor of souls, should bring down all the race of men."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44. 198 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"Hermes thy [Persephone's] musterer of ghosts."

For MYTHS of Hermes as guide of the dead see:
(1) Hermes Agent of Zeus : Guide of the Dead (incl. the stories of the Return of Persephone, and the fetching of Sisyphos back to the Underworld)

II) HERMES INVOKED IN OFFERINGS TO THE GHOSTS OF THE DEAD & NECROMANCY

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 1 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Orestes: ‘Hermes of the nether world (Khthonios), you who guard the powers that are your father's [Zeus'], prove yourself my savior and ally, I entreat you, now that I have come to this land and returned from exile. On this mounded grave I cry out to my father [the spirit of the murdered Agamemnon] to hearken, to hear me.’"

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 124 ff :
"Elektra [standing before the grave of her father]: ‘Supreme herald of the realm above and the realm below, O Hermes Khthonios (of the nether world), come to my aid, summon to me the [ancestral] spirits beneath the earth to hear my prayers, spirits that watch over my father's house, and Gaia (Earth) herself, who gives birth to all things, and having nurtured them receives their increase in turn. And meanwhile, as I pour these lustral offerings to the dead, I invoke my father . . . I utter these prayers on our behalf, but I ask that your avenger appear to our foes, father, and that your killers may be killed in just retribution.’"

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 721 ff :
"O hallowed earth, and hallowed barrow raised high that now lies on the royal form of the commander of the fleet [Agamemnon], now hear me, now lend me aid! Now is the hour for Peitho (Persuasion) with her guile to join forces with him [Orestes in his plan to slay the murderers using guile and persuasion], and for Hermes of the nether world (Khthonios), who works in stealth, to direct this encounter of the deadly sword."

Phlegon of Tralles, Book of Marvels 2. 1 (trans. Hansen) (Greek Paradoxography C2nd A.D.) :
"[A Greek village learnt that one of their neighbours was haunted by a corpse-possessing ghost, and discussed the problem in assembly:] There was considerable confusion in the assembly and almost no one was able to form a judgment on the events. The first to stand up was Hyllos, who is considered to be not only the best seer among us but also a fine augur; in general, he has shown remarkable perception in his craft. He said we should burn the girl outside the boundaries of the city, since nothing would be gained by burying her in the ground within its boundaries, and perform an apotropaic sacrifice to Hermes Khthonios (of the Underworld) and the Eumenides [Erinyes]. Then he prescribed that everyone purify himself completely, cleanse the temples and perform all the customary rites to the Khthonion (Underworld) Gods. He spoke to me also in private about he king and the events, telling me to sacrifice to Hermes, Zeus Xenios (God of Guests) and Ares, and to perform these rites with carel."

Statius, Thebaid 2. 27 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Cerberus lying on the murky threshold perceived them [the approaching ghosts of the dead] . . . [but] the god [Hermes] with branch Lethaean [i.e. of the river of forgetfulness] soothed his bristling frame and quelled with threefold slumber the steely glare."

Statius, Thebaid 4. 410 ff :
"[Teiresias invokes Hermes in the summoning of ghosts from Haides:] ‘Haste ye all together, nor let there be fore the Shades but one fashion of return to the light; do thou, daughter of Perses [Hekate], and the cloud-wrapt Arcadian [Hermes] with rod of power lead in separate throng the pious denizens of Elysium; but for those who died in crime, who in Erebus . . . be thou their leader, [the Erinys] Tisiphone.’"

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 730 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Alkimede invokes Hermes Khthonios in the magic of nekromankia, the summoning of ghosts:] Unto the lord of Tartarus [Haides] and unto the Stygian ghosts was Alcimede bringing holy offerings . . . if Shades summoned forth might give her surer knowledge. Even Aeson himself, who shares her anxiety but who hides such unmanly fears in his heart, yields and is led by his wife. In a trench stands blood and plenteous offering to hidden Phlegethon and with fierce cries the aged witch calls upon her departed ancestors and the grandson of great Pleione [Hermes, guide of souls]. And now at the sound of the spell rose a face, insubstantial, and [the ghost of] Kretheus gazed upon his mournful son and daughter-in-law."

Suidas s.v. Persephone (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Elektra says [summoning forth avenging furies and the wrathful ghost of dead father]: ‘O house of Haides and Persephone! O Hermes Khthonios (of the Underworld) and holy Ara (Curse) and divine Erinnyes (Furies)! You who watch over those dying unjustly and those being robbed of a marriage bed: Come! Help avenge the murder of our father!’"


K11.10 HERMES
PSYKHOPOMPOS
N11.5 HERMES
PSYKHOPOMPOS
N11.3 HERMES
PSYKHOPOMPOS
 

GOD OF SLEEP

Hermes was often described as the bringer of sleep and dreams. The Daimones who personified these were Hypnos (Sleep) and the Oneiroi (Dreams). Although Hermes and Hypnos are distinct entities in Homer, they may have originally been regarded as one and the same.

Homer, Iliad 24. 339 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"He [Hermes] caught up the staff (rhabdos), with which he mazes the eyes of those mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again the sleepers. Holding this in his hands, strong (kratus) Argeiphontes winged his way onward."

Homer, Iliad 24. 443 ff :
"There were sentries . . . but about these the courier Argeiphontes drifted sleep, on all [with his wand]."

Homer, Odyssey 5. 4 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"And he [Hermes] took the rod that lulls men’s eyes for him, at his pleasure, or awakens others when they slumber."

Homer, Odyssey 24. 1 & 99 ff :
"[Hermes] held in his hand the golden rod that he uses to lull men's eyes asleep when he so wills, or again to wake others from their slumber."

Homer, Odyssey 7. 137 ff :
"Odysseus stepped quickly over the threshold into the palace [of King Alkinous of the Phaiakians]. He found the Phaiakian lords and rulers pouring libations from their cups to the keen-sighted (euskopos) Argeiphontes (Radiant One) [Hermes] to whom by custom they poured libation last when they turned their thoughts to the night's rest."

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 811 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"May Maia's son [Hermes], as he rightfully should, lend his aid . . . by his mysterious utterance he brings darkness over men's eyes by night, and by day he is no more clear at all."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 583 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Hermes] grasped in his fist the wand that charms to sleep, put on his magic cap, and thus arrayed . . . sprang from his father's citadel down to earth [to slay the monster Argos Panoptes]. There he removed his cap, laid by his wings; only his wand he kept . . . Cyllenius [Hermes] saw all Argus' eyelids closed [after soothing him with the music of a shepherd's-pipe] and every eye vanquished in sleep. He stopped and with his wand, his magic wand, soothed the tired resting eyes and sealed their slumber."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 730 ff :
"[Hermes] saw that his wand, the wand he wields to bring and banish sleep, shone with a polish."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 301 ff :
"Mercurius [Hermes] with his wand that soothes to slumber touched her [Khione] on the lips; touch-tranced she lay and suffered his assault [he lay with her]."

See also Hermes God of Dreams of Omen (this page)
For MYTHS of Hermes as a god of sleep see:
(1) Hermes & the Giant Argos Panoptes


GOD OF DREAMS OF OMEN

Dreams of omen were messages sent by the gods and the ghosts of the dead. Hermes presided over these, both in his role as the Herald of the Gods (the agent of all divine messages), the God of Sleep, and as Guide of the Dead, who traversed the paths between the lands of the living and the dead.

Homer, Odyssey 19. 562 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Dreams (Oneiroi) are beyond our unravelling - who can be sure what tale they tell? Not all that men look for comes to pass. Two gates there are that give passage to fleeting Oneiroi; one is made of horn, one of ivory. The Oneiroi (Dreams) that pass through sawn ivory are deceitful, bearing a message that will not be fulfilled; those that come out through polished horn have truth behind them, to be accomplished for men who see them."

Homer, Odyssey 24. 1 & 99 ff :
"[Hermes] held in his hand the golden rod that he uses to lull men's eyes asleep when he so wills, or again to wake others from their slumber; with this he roused them [the ghosts of the newly dead] and led them on, and they followed him, thinly gibbering . . . Hermes led them down through the ways of dankness. They passed the streams of Okeanos, the White Rock (leukas petre), the Gates of the Sun (pylai helion) and the Land of Dreams (demos oneiron), and soon they came to the Field of Asphodel (leimon asphodelon) where the Psykhai souls (psykhai), the phantoms of the dead (eidola) have their habitation."

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 16 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes] . . . a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night."

Aesop, Fables 563 (from Babrius, Fabulae 30) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"A sculptor was selling a white marble statue of Hermes which two men wanted to buy: one of them, whose son had just died, wanted it for the tombstone, while the other was a craftsman who wanted to consecrate the statue to the god himself . . . In his sleep, the sculptor saw Hermes himself standing at the Gate of Dreams (pylai oneiroi). The god spoke to him and said, ‘Well, my fate hangs in the balance: it is up to you whether I will become a dead man or a god!’"

See also Hermes God of Sleep (this page)
For MYTHS of Hermes as the God of Dreams see:
(1) Hermes Guide of the Dead (the ghost of Protesilaos)


GOD OF RUSTIC DIVINATION

Hermes presided over the rustic art of divination by pebbles, practised in the highlands of shepherds and cattle-herders.
He was said to have learnt the art from certain Nymphai known as Thriai, given to him by Apollon in a trade for the music of the pipe.

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 550 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"[Apollon to Hermes:] ‘As for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods . . . But I will tell you another thing, all-glorious (erikydes) Son of Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, luck-bringing genius of the gods (daimon eriounes theon). There are certain holy ones, sisters born - three virgins gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassos. These are teachers of divination apart from me [i.e. of divination by pebbles], the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods' sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response - if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia [and preside over this primitive form of divination].’"

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 115 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes was tending the cattle, this time he fashioned a shepherd's pipe which he proceeded to play. Covetous also of this, Apollon offered him the golden staff which he held when he herded cattle. But Hermes wanted both the staff and proficiency in the art of prophecy in return for the pipe. So he was taught how to prophesy by means of pebbles, and gave Apollon the pipe."


GOD OF CONTESTS, ATHLETICS,  GYMNASIUMS, THE GAMES

Pindar, Nemean Ode 10 ep3 (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"The two brothers [the Dioskouroi], at the games of Sparta's wide-built city, joint patrons with Hermes and with Herakles the presidency share."

Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 508 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Hermes [as god of contests] has appropriately pitted them [two men in battle] against each other. For the man is hostile to the man he faces in battle, and the gods on their shields [Zeus and Typhon] also meet as enemies."

Aeschylus, Fragment 212 (from Scholiast on Pindar, Pythian 2. 18) :
"O Hermes, lord of games (enagônios), son of Maia and Zeus!"

Aesop, Fables 564 (from Babrius, Fabulae 48) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"A dog approached the statue [of Hermes] and said to it, ‘To begin with, Hermes, I salute you! And now I am going to anoint you, since I cannot let a god go by without anointing him, much less a god of the athletes.’"

Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . prefect of contests . . . to rejoice is thine in arts gymnastic."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 32. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes, Herakles and Theseus, are honored in the gymnasium and wrestling-ground according to a practice universal among Greeks."

Plato, Republic 411e (trans. Shorey) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Gymnastics with music . . . these two it seems there are two arts which I would say some god [i.e. Apollon and Hermes] gave to mankind, music and gymnastics for the service of the high-spirited principle and the love of knowledge in them." [N.B. Mousika (i.e. the arts) and gymnastics were the standard components of ancient Athenian education.]

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 21 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting depicting the wrestling match of Herakles and Antaios:] Doubtless you see Antaios groaning and looking to Ge (Earth), who does not help him, while Herakles is strong and smiles at his achievement . . . Here comes Hermes to visit Herakles and crown him because he finds that Herakles plays his part so well in the wrestling-match."

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 32 :
"Olympia--and as yet there is no prize for wrestling nor even any love of wrestling, but there will be. For Palaistra (goddess of wrestling), the daughter of Hermes, who has just come to womanhood in Arkadia, has discovered the art, and the earth seems to rejoice at the discovery."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 277 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"First Inventors . . . Mercurius [Hermes] first taught wrestling to mortals."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 7 :
"Following his [Hermes'] example, they use the staff [caduceus] in athletic contests and other contests of this kind."

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of contests see:
(1) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Contest Leader
(2) Hermes Challenges Apollon in the Olympic Games
(3) Hermes Challgenges Aphrodite in the Pythian Games


GOD OF ASTRONOMY & THE CALENDAR

Hermes was the god of the interrelated arts of astronomy and astrology (the reading of the stars). This function was also reflected in his genealogy: for his grandfather Atlas was the Titan who turned the heavenly constellations on their axis, and his mother Maia one of the starry Pleiades.

1) TEACHER OF ASTRONOMY

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 20. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"There is near Tanagra [in Boiotia] . . . Mount Kerykios, the reputed birthplace of Hermes, and also a place called Polos. Here they say that Atlas [the grandfather of Hermes] sat and meditated deeply upon the heavens [and he presumably instructed his grandson Hermes astronomy]."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5. 15 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"Many people . . . resorted to the temple of Hermes asking for the gift of wisdom . . . Now when on the appointed day they arrived of the distribution of the gifts of wisdom, Hermes as the god of wisdom and eloquence and also of rewards, said to [he who had presented the god with the third largest offering:] . . . ‘You shall have the gifts of astronomy.’"

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 42 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Euhemerus [Greek mythographer C4th B.C.] says that Venus [Aphrodite] first established the constellations and taught Mercurius [Hermes]."

II) THE PLANET MERCURY

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 42 :
"It remains for us to speak of the five stars which many have called wandering, and which the Greeks call Planeta . . . This fifth star is Mercurius' [Hermes], named Stilbon. It is small and bright. It is attributed to Mercurius [Hermes] because he first established the months and perceived the courses of the constellations."

III) CONSTELLATIONS ARIES & TRIANGULUM

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 19 :
"Triangle [Triangulum]. This constellation, which has three angles like the Greek letter Delta, is so named for that reason. Mercurius [Hermes] is thought to have placed it above the head of Aries (the Ram), so that the dimness of Aries might be marked by its brightness, wherever it should be, and that it should form the first letter in the name of Jove [Zeus] (in Greek, Dis)."

IV) CONSTELLATION LEPUS

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 33 :
"Hare [constellation Lepus]. Some say that it was put there by Mercurius [Hermes], and that it had been given the faculty, beyond other kinds of quadrapeds, of being pregnant with new offspring when giving birth to others."


GOD OF RUSTIC MUSIC & POETRY

See also Hermes God of Animal Fables (this page)
For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of rustic music see:
(1) Hermes Inventor of Lyre and Shepherd's Pipe
(2) Hermes Challenges Aphrodite in the Pythian Games
(3) Hermes Favour: Amphion
(4) Hermes Family / Favour: Daphnis


GOD OF ANIMAL FABLES

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5. 15 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"He [Hermes] remembered the Horai (Seasons), by whom he himself had been nurtured . . . [and] they had told him a story about the cow, which had a conversation with the man about herself and about the earth . . . Accordingly forthwith he bestowed upon Aesop the art of fable called mythology, for that was all that was left in the house of wisdom, and said: ‘Do you keep what was the first thing I learnt myself.’ Aesop then acquired the various forms of his fart from that source, and the issue was such as we see in the matter of mythology."

For MYTHS of Hermes as the god of animal fables see Hermes Favour: Aesop
For the FABLES of Aesop featuring Hermes see Hermes in the Fables of Aesop


DAY OF HERMES

The fourth day of the month was sacred to Hermes, for that was his day of birth.
Likewise the fourth day of the week (Wednesday) was named after him (in Greek it was called Hermes' day, in Latin Mercurius' day, and in Germanic Woden's day - the Norse god Woden-Odin being identified with Hermes-Mercurius). The seven days of the week correspond to the seven heavenly bodies (the five visible planets, the sun and the moon); but the ordering was based on mythic tradition.

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 20 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"On the fourth day of the month queenly Maia bare him [Hermes]."


Z50.1D HERMES
AS WEDNESDAY
     

STAR OF HERMES (PLANET MERCURY)

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 42 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Planets. It remains for us to speak of the five stars which many have called wandering, and which the Greeks call Planeta . . . This fifth star is Mercurius' [Hermes], named Stilbon. It is small and bright. It is attributed to Mercurius because he first established the months and perceived the courses of the constellations. Euhemerus says that Venus [Aphrodite] first established the constellations and taught Mercurius [Hermes]."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41. 339 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"The tablets bear the names of the seven planets. The first has the name of revolving Selene [the Moon]; the second is called of Hermes [i.e. the planet Mercury]."


IDENTIFIED WITH FOREIGN GODS

Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercurius, the Thracian Zalmoxis and the Egyptian ibis-headed god Thoth.

I) IDENTIFIED WITH THRACIAN ZALMOXIS

Herodotus, Histories 5. 7 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"They [the Threikoi or Thracians] worship no gods but Ares, Dionysos, and Artemis [the Thrakian gods Ares, Sabazios and Bendis]. Their princes, however, unlike the rest of their countrymen, worship Hermes [probably the Thracian god Zalmoxis] above all gods and swear only by him, claiming him for their ancestor."

II) IDENTIFIED WITH EGYPTIAN THOTH

Herodotus, Histories 2. 138 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"[In the city of Bubastis is a] temple of Hermes [i.e. the Egyptian god Thoth]."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 319 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Typhoeus, issuing from earth's lowest depths, struck terror in those heavenly hearts, and they all turned their backs and fled, until they found refuge in Aegyptus and the seven-mouthed Nilus . . . Typhoeus Terrigena (Earthborn) even there pursued them and the gods concealed themselves in spurious shapes . . . Cyllenius [Hermes] [as] an ibis [i.e. the ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth]."


Sources:

  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
  • Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C9th-8th BC
  • Hesiod, Works & Days - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • Hesiod, Catalogues of Women - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • Hesiod, Great Eoiae - Greek Epic C8th-7th BC
  • The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th-4th BC
  • Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Agamemnon - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Eumenides - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Libation Bearers - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aeschylus, Suppliant Women - Greek Tragedy C5th BC
  • Aesop, Fables - Greek Fables C6th BC
  • Plato, Cratylus - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
  • Plato, Republic - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd BC
  • The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns BC
  • Callimachus, Fragments - Greek C3rd BC
  • Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek C3rd BC
  • Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th BC
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece - Greek Geography C2nd AD
  • Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
  • Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd AD
  • Phlegon of Tralles, Book of Marvels - Greek Paradoxography C2nd AD
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd AD
  • Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd AD
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st BC - C1st AD
  • Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st AD
  • Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Epic C2nd AD
  • Tryphiodorus, The Taking of Ilias - Greek Epic C5th AD
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th AD
  • Suidas - Byzantine Lexicon C10th AD