HERMES MYTHS 2
HERMES was the Olympian god of herds, trade, heralds, athletes and thieves.
This page contains stories of Hermes from the sagas of the gods including his slaying of the hundred-eyed giant Argos Panoptes, his role in the War of the Giants, flight from the monster Typhoeus, participation in the creation of Pandora, the birth of his son Pan, his role in the Trojan War, and appearance in the fables of Aesop.
The first myths page describes the childhood of the god, the third page his role as the agent of Zeus, and following pages his loves, wrath and favour. (See the Hermes pages index for more details.)
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
HERMES & ARGUS PANOPTES
Hesiod or Cercops of Miletus, Aegimius Frag 6 (from Scholiast on Homer's Iliad 2. 24) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Argeiphontes (Slayer of Argos). According to Hesiodos' tale he [Hermes] slew [Argos] the herdsman of Io."
Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 299 ff (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"King : The goddess of Argos [Hera] transformed the woman [Io, loved by Zeus] into a cow . . . [and] she placed the all-seeing one (panoptês) to stand watch over the cow.
Chorus : What manner of all-seeing herdsman with a single duty do you mean?
King : Argos, a son of Ge (Earth), whom Hermes slew."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 7 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Io the love of Zeus was transformed into a cow to hide her from Hera :] Hera demanded the cow from Zeus, and assigned Argos Panoptes as its guard . . . Argos tied the cow to an olive tree in the grove of the Mykenians. Zeus instructed Hermes to steal her, and Hermes, unable to sneak her out because Hierax had told on him, killed Argos with a stone. From this came Hermes' surname Argeiphontes."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 10. 202 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"There [depicted on the quiver of Herakles] Hermes was, storm-footed Son of Zeus, slaying huge Argos nigh to Inakhos' streams, Argos, whose sentinel eyes in turn took sleep."
Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hermes . . . whose powerful arts could watchful Argos kill."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 145 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"From Inachus and Argia [was born] Io. Jupiter [Zeus] loved and embraced Io, and changed her to heifer form so that Juno [Hera] would not recognize her. When Juno [Hera] found out, she sent Argus, who had gleaming eyes all around to guard her. Mercurius [Hermes], at Jove's [Zeus'] command, killed him."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 583 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Heaven's master [Zeus] could no more endure Phoronis' [Io's] distress [a captive of Hera's guard, the hundred-eyed giant Argos Panoptes], and summoned his son [Hermes], whom the bright shining Pleias [Maia] bore, and charged him to accomplish Argus' death. Promptly he fastened on his ankle-wings, grasped in his fist the wand that charms to sleep, put on his magic cap, and thus arrayed Jove's [Zeus'] son [Hermes] sprang from his father's citadel down to earth. There he removed his cap, laid by his wings; only his wand he kept.
A herdsman now, he drove a flock of goats through the green byways, gathered as he went, and played his pipes of reed. The strange sweet skill charmed Juno's [Hera's] guardian. ‘My friend,’ he called, ‘whoever you are, well might you sit with me here on this rock, and see how cool the shade extends congenial for a shepherd's seat.’
So Atlantiades [Hermes] joined him, and with many a tale he stayed the passing hours and on his reeds played soft refrains to lull the watching eyes. But Argus fought to keep at bay the charms of slumber and, though many of his eyes were closed in sleep, still many kept their guard. He asked too by what means this new design (for new it was), the pipe of reeds, was found. Then the god told this story [of Pan and his pursuit of the Nymphe Syrinx] . . .
The tale remained untold; for Cyllenius [Hermes] saw all Argus' eyelids closed and every eye vanquished in sleep. He stopped and with his wand, his magic wand, soothed the tired resting eyes and sealed their slumber; quick then with his sword he struck off the nodding head and from the rock threw it all bloody, spattering the cliff with gore. Argus lay dead; so many eyes, so bright quenched, and all hundred shrouded in one night."
For MORE information on this giant see ARGOS PANOPTES
HERMES & THE WAR OF THE GIANTS
When the Gigantes (Giants) made war on Heaven, Hermes fought in the ensuing battle and slew the Gigante Hippolytos with his golden sword. He was frequently depicted wielding his sword against this Gigante in ancient depictions of the battle.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 38 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[In the War of the Gigantes :] Hermes, who was wearing the helmet of Haides, killed [the Gigante] Hippolytos in the course of the battle."
For MORE information on the War of the Giants see GIGANTES
HERMES & THE GIANT TYPHOEUS
Typhoeus was a monstrous giant who laid siege to Olympos. All of the gods except for Zeus fled in fear to Egypt and hid themselves in the form of animals. Zeus alone stood against the beast but was disarmed and defeated. Hermes and Aigipan then came to his aid and restored to him his stolen strength.
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 42 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Grabbing the sickle he [the monster Typhon, after defeating Zeus in battle,] cut out the sinews from Zeus' hands and feet . . . He hid away the sinews there [in Kilikia] in the skin of a bear, and posted over them the Drakaina Delphyne (a girl who was half animal). But Hermes and Aigipan stole back the sinews and succeeded in replanting them in Zeus without being seen."
Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 28 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Typhon, a deity monstrous because of his strength, and of outlandish appearance . . . felt an urge to usurp the rule of Zeus and not one of the gods could withstand him as he attacked. In panic they fled to Aigyptos (Egypt), all except Athena and Zeus, who alone were left. Typhon hunted after them, on their track. When they fled they had changed themselves in anticipation into animal forms. Apollon became a hawk [the Egyptian god Horus], Hermes an ibis [i.e. the Egyptian god Thoth], Ares became a fish, the lepidotus [Onuris], Artemis a cat [Bastet]."
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; ‘And Juppiter [Zeus] became a ram,’ she said, ‘lord of the herd, and so today great Ammon Libys' [Zeus-Ammon] shown with curling horns. Delius [Apollon] hid as a raven, Semeleia [Dionysos] as a goat, Phoebe [Artemis] a cat, Saturnia [Hera] a snow-white cow, Venus [Aphrodite] a fish and Cyllenius [Hermes] an ibis.’"
For MORE information on this giant see TYPHOEUS
HERMES & THE CREATION OF PANDORA
When Zeus commissioned that the first woman, Pandora, be crafted by the gods, Hermes bestowed upon her guile and deceitfulness, and delivered her to mankind.
Hesiod, Works and Days 60 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"He [Zeus] bade famous Hephaestus make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face [the first woman Pandora]; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, Argeiphontes, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature.
So he ordered. And they obeyed the lord Zeus the son of Kronos. Forthwith the famous Lame God [Hephaistos] moulded clay in the likeness of a modest maid, as [Zeus] the son of Kronos purposed . . . and the Guide Argeiphontes [Hermes] contrived within her 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. And he called this woman Pandora (All-gifts), because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread.
But when he had finished the sheer, hopeless snare, the Father sent glorious Argeiphontes [Hermes], the swift messenger of the gods, to take it to Epimetheus as a gift. And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men. But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood."
HERMES & THE "BABELISATION" OF LANGUAGE
Hermes was the said to have instructed mankind in the language of many tongues. His role was similar to that of the Tower of Babel in Judaic mythology, namely the division of nations through diverse language.
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]."
HERMES & THE BIRTH OF PAN
Homeric Hymn 19 to Pan (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Pan, the dear son of Hermes, with his goat's feet and two horns . . . The clear-voiced Nymphai . . . sing of the blessed gods and high Olympos and choose to tell of such an one as luck-bringing Hermes above the rest, how he is the swift messenger of all the gods, and how he came to Arkadia, the land of many springs and mother of flocks, there where his sacred place is as god of Kyllene. For there, though a god, he used to tend curly-fleeced sheep in the service of a mortal man, because there fell on him and waxed strong melting desire to wed the rich-tressed daughter of Dryops, and there be brought about the merry marriage. And in the house she bare Hermes a dear son who from his birth was marvellous to look upon, with goat's feet and two horns--a noisy, merry-laughing child. But when the nurse saw his uncouth face and full beard, she was afraid and sprang up and fled and left the child. Then luck-bringing (eriounes) Hermes received him and took him in his arms: very glad in his heart was the god. And he went quickly to the abodes of the deathless gods, carrying the son wrapped in warm skins of mountain hares, and set him down beside Zeus and showed him to the rest of the gods. Then all the immortals were glad in heart and Bakkheios Dionysus in especial; and they called the boy Pan because he delighted all their hearts."
Plato, Cratylus 408b (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Pan . . . is rightly called goat-herd (aipolos), being the double-natured son of Hermes, smooth in his upper parts, rough and goat-like in his lower parts."
For MORE information on this god see PAN
HERMES CHALLENGES APOLLO IN THE OLYMPIC GAMES
Herodotus, Histories 5. 7. 10 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"[At the founding of the Olympian Games :] He [Zeus] held the games in honor of his victory over Kronos (Cronus). The record of victors include Apollon, who outran Hermes and beat Ares at boxing."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 7. 10 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Some say that Zeus [at the very first Olympic Games] wrestled here with Kronos himself for the throne, while others say that he held the games in honor of his victory over Kronos. The record of victors include Apollon, who outran Hermes and beat Ares at boxing."
HERMES CHALLENGES APHRODITE IN THE PYTHIAN GAMES
Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 7 (summary from Photius, Myriobiblon 190) (trans. Pearse) (Greek mythographer C1st to C2nd A.D.) :
"Apollon organised funeral games in honour of Python [the Pythian Games of Delphoi]; Hermes contributed to it, like Aphrodite; she won and accepted as prize a zither."
HERMES & THE LIFE OF THE GODS ON OLYMPUS
I. FEASTS OF OLYMPOS
Homeric Hymn 3 to Pythian Apollo 190 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"All the Mousai (Muses) together, voice sweetly answering voice, hymn the unending gifts the gods enjoy . . . There rich-tressed Kharites (Graces) and cheerful Horai (Hours) dance with Harmonia (Harmony) and Hebe (Youth) and Aphrodite . . . And among them sings one [Artemis] . . . Among them sports Ares and keen-eyed Argeiphontes [Hermes], while Apollon plays his lyre."
II. THE ADULTERY OF APHRODITE
Homer, Odyssey 8. 323 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"All the gods came thronging there in front of the house [of Hephaistos] with its brazen floor [to witness Aphrodite and Ares caught in a net by Hephaistos during their adulterous rendezvous]. Poseidon the earth-shaker came, and the mighty runner (eriounes) Hermes and Lord Apollon who shoots from afar . . . Thus then the bounteous gods stood at the entrance. Laughter they could not quench rose on the lips of these happy beings as they fixed their eyes on the stratagem of Hephaistos, and glancing at his neighbour said some such words as these : ‘Ill deeds never prosper; swift after all is outrun by slow; here is Hephaistos the slow and crippled, yet by his cunning he has defeated the swiftest of all Olympian gods, and Ares must pay an adulterer's penalty.’
Such were the words that passed between them. Then Lord Apollon the son of Zeus spoke thus to Hermes : ‘Hermes messenger (diaktoros), giver of blessings (dotor heaon), son of Zeus (Dios huios), would you be content to be chained as fast if then you could lie abed with golden Aphrodite?’
And messenger (diaktoros) Argeiphontes (Radiant One) answered him : ‘O Lord Apollon of darting arrows--would that it might be so! Though desperate chains in thrice that number were to enclose me round--though all you gods were to have full sight of me, and all the goddesses too--I would even then choose to lie with golden Aphrodite.’
So said Hermes, and laughter arose among the immortal gods."
For the MYTH of the adultery of Aphrodite see Aphrodite Loves: Ares
III. GAMES WITH THE MAIDEN OKEANIDES
Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis 46 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"When any of the maidens [the Okeanides] doth disobedience to her mother [Tethys], the mother calls the Kyklopes to her child--Arges or Steropes; and from within the house comes Hermes stained with burnt ashes [playfully pretending to be one of the frightful Kyklopes]. And straightway he plays bogey to the child and she runs into her mother's lap, with her hands upon her eyes."
For MORE information on these nymphs see OKEANIDES
HERMES & THE TROJAN WAR
I. THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS
Eris cast the Golden Apple addressed "to the Fairest" amongst the goddesses of Olympos. Hera, Aphrodite and Athena all laid claim to the prize, and Zeus commanded Hermes to lead the three to Paris Prince of Troy to render judgement. He chose Aphrodite, and in return was awarded Helene as his wife by the goddess (the object of the Trojan War).
For the MYTH of the Judgement of Paris see Hermes Agent of Zeus: Contest Leader
II. THE CONFLICT OF THE GODS
Hermes sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War, and when the divine factions came to blows with one another, he was set to stand against Leto. However, in respect for the goddess, he stood down, declining to combat her.
Homer, Iliad 15. 214 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Poseidon speaks of his divine allies in the Trojan War :] ‘If ever, acting apart from me and Athene the spoiler, apart from Hera and Hermes and the lord Hephaistos, he [Zeus] shall spare headlong Ilion, and shall not be willing to take it by storm, and bestow great victory on the Argives, let him be sure, there will be no more healing of our anger.’"
Homer, Iliad 20. 37 ff :
"The gods went down to enter the fighting [of Troy], with purposes opposed. Hera went to the assembled ships [in support of the Greeks] with Pallas Athene and with Poseidon who embraces the earth, and with generous (eriounes) Hermes, who within the heart is armed with astute thoughts; [and] Hephaistos went the way of these . . . But Ares of the shining helm went over to the Trojans. And with him went Phoibos of the unshorn hair, and the lady of arrows Artemis, and smiling Aphrodite, Leto and Xanthos . . . Against Hera stood . . . Artemis. . . Opposite Leto stood the strong one, generous (eriounes) Hermes."
Homer, Iliad 21. 493 ff :
"[Hera boxed Artemis around the head with her own bow:] She [Artemis] got free and fled in tears . . . So she left her archery on the ground, and fled weeping. Meanwhile the Guide (diaktoros) Argeiphontes [Hermes], addressed him to Leto : ‘Leto, I will not fight with you; since it is a hard thing to come to blows with the brides of Zeus who gathers the clouds. No sooner you may freely speak among the immortal gods, and claim that you were stronger than I, and beat me.’"
III. RANSOM OF THE BODY OF HEKTOR
After the Trojan Prince Hektor was killed by Akhilleus, Hermes led King Priamos to the Greek camp under cover of darkness to ransom his body.
Homer, Iliad 24. 24 & 153 & 333 & 679 ff :
"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 [Hermes] to steal the body. There this was pleasing to all the others, but never to Hera, nor Poseidon, nor the girl of the grey eyes [Athena] . . .
[Zeus summons Thetis to Olympos and commands her :] ‘I will tell you why I summoned you hither. For nine days there has risen a quarrel among the immortals over the body of Hektor, and Akhilleus, stormer of cities. They keep urging clear-sighted (euskopos) Argeiphontes [Hermes] to steal the body, but I still put upon Akhilleus the honour that he has, guarding your reverence and your love for me into time afterwards. Go then in all speed to the encampment and give to your son this message: tell him that the gods frown upon him, that beyond all other immortals I myself am angered that in his heart's madness he holds Hektor beside the curved ships and did not give him back. Then I will send Iris to Priamos of the great heart, with an order to ransom his dear son, going down to the ships of the Akhaians and bringing gifts to Akhilleus which might soften his anger.’ . . .
The son of Kronos stirred Iris to go down to sacred Ilion, saying : ‘Go forth, Iris the swift, leaving your place on Olympos, and go to Priamos of the great heart within Ilion, tell him to ransom his dear son, going down to the ships of the Akhaians and bringing gifts to Akhilleus which might soften his anger; alone, let no other man of the Trojans go with him, but only let one elder herald attend him, one who can manage the mules and the easily running wagon, so he can carry the dead man, whom great Akhilleus slew, back to the city. Let death not be a thought in his heart, let him have no fear; such an escort shall I send to guide him, Argeiphontes [Hermes], who shall lead him until he brings him to Akhilleus.’ . . .
When the two men [King Priamos and his herald] had gone down through the city, and out, and come to the flat land . . . Zeus of the wide-brows failed not to notice the two as they showed in the plain. He saw the old man and took pity upon him, and spoke directly to his beloved son, 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.’
He spoke, nor disobeyed him the courier (diaktoros) Argeiphontes. Immediately he bound upon his feet the fair sandals golden and immortal, that carried him over the water as over the dry land of the main abreast of the wind's blast. He caught up the staff, 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 until he came suddenly to Troy and the Hellespont, and there walked on, and there took the likeness of a young man, a noble, with beard new grown, which is the most graceful time of young manhood.
Now when the two had driven past the great tom of Ilos they stayed their mules and horses to water them in the river, for by this time darkness had descended on the land; and the herald made out for Hermes, who was coming toward them at a short distance. He lifted his voice and spoke aloud to Priamos : ‘Take thought, son of Dardanos. Here is work for a mind that is careful. I see a man; I think he will presently tear us to pieces. Come then, let us run away with our horses, or if not, then clasp his knees and entreat him to have mercy upon us.’
So he spoke, and the old man's mind was confused, he was badly frightened and the hairs stood up all over his gnarled body and he stood staring, but the kindly god himself coming closer took the old man's hand, and spoke to him and asked him a question : ‘Where, my father, are you thus guiding your mules and horses through the immortal night while other mortals are sleeping? Have you no fear of the Akhaians whose wind is fury, who hate you, who are your enemies, and are near? For if one of these were to see you, how you are conveying so many treasures through the swift black night, what then could you think of? You are not young yourself, and he who attends you is aged for beating off any man who might pick a quarrel with you. But I will do you no harm myself, I will even keep off another who would. You seem to me like a beloved father.’
In answer to him again spoke aged Priamos the godlike : ‘Yes, in truth, dear child, all this is much as you tell me; yet still there is some god who has held his hand above me, who sent such a wayfarer as you to meet me, an omen of good, for such you are by your form, your admired beauty and the wisdom in your mind. Your parents are fortunate in you.’
Then in turn answered him the courier (diaktoros) Argeiphontes : ‘Yes, old sir, all this that you said is fair and orderly. But come, tell me this thing and recite it to me accurately. Can it be your convey these treasures in all their numbers and beauty to outland men, so that they can be still kept safe for you? Or are all of you by now abandoning sacred Ilion in fear, such a one was he who died, the best man among you, your son; who was never wanting when you fought against the Akhaians.’
In answer to him again spoke aged Priamos the godlike : ‘But who are you, o best of men, and who are your parents? Since you spoke of my ill-starred son's death, and with honour.’
Then in turn answered him the courier (diaktoros) Argeiphontes : ‘You try me out, aged sir. You ask me of glorious Hektor whom many a time my eyes have seen in the fighting where men win glory, as also on that time when he drove back the Argives on their ships and kept killing them with the stroke of sharp bronze, and we stood by and wondered at him; for then Akhilleus would not let us fight by reason of his anger would not let us fight by reason of his anger at Agamemnon. For I am Akhilleus' henchman, and the same strong-wrought vessel brought us here; and I am a Myrmidon, and my father is Polyktor; a man of substance, but aged, as you are. He has six sons beside, and I am the seventh, and I shook lots with the others, and it was my lot to come on this venture. But now I have come to the plain away from the ships, for at daybreak the glancing-eyed Akhaians will do battle around the city. They chafe from sitting here too long, nor have the Akhaians' kings the strength to hold them back as they break for the fighting.’
In answer to him again spoke aged Priamos the godlike : ‘If then you are henchman to Peleid Akhilleus, come, tell me the entire truth, and whether my son lies still beside the ships, or whether by now he has been hewn limb from limb and thrown before the dogs by Akhilleus.’
Then in turn answered him the courier Argeiphontes : ‘Aged sir, neither have any dogs eaten him, nor have the birds, but he lies yet beside the ship of Akhilleus at he shelters, and s he was; now here is the twelfth dawn he has lain there, nor does his flesh decay, nor do worms feed on him, they who devour men who have fallen in battle. It is true, Akhilleus drags him at random around his beloved companion's tomb, as dawn on dawn appears, yet he cannot mutilate him; you yourself can see when you go there how fresh with dew he lies, and the flood is all washed from him, nor is there any corruption, and all the wounds have been closed up where he was struck, since many drove the bronze in his body. So it is that the blessed immortals care for your son, though he is nothing but a dead man; because in their hearts they loved him.’
He spoke, and the old man was made joyful and answered him, saying : ‘My child, surely it is good to give the immortals their due gifts; because my own son, if ever I had one, never forgot in his halls the gods who live on Olympos. Therefore they remembered him even in death's stage. Come, then, accept at my hands this beautiful drinking cup, and give me protection for my body, and with the gods' grace be my escort until I make my way to the shelter of the son of Peleus.’
In turn answered him the courier Argeiphontes : ‘You try me out, aged sir, for I am young, but you will not persuade me, telling me to accept your gifts when Akhilleus does not know. I fear him at heart and have too much reverence to rob him. Such a thing might be a sorrow hereafter. But I would be your escort and take good care of you, even till I came to glorious Argos in a fast ship or following on foot, and one would fight you because he despised your escort.’
The Kind God (Eriounes) spoke, and sprang up behind the horses and into the chariot, and rapidly caught in his hands the lash and the guide reins, and breathed great strength into the mules and horses. Now after they had got to the fortifications about the ships, and the ditch, there were sentries, who had just begun to make ready their dinner, but about these the courier Argeiphontes drifted sleep, on all, and quickly opened the gate, and shoved back all the door-bars, and brought in Priamos and the glorious gifts on the wagon. But when they had got to the shelter of Peleus' son . . . at this time Hermes the kind god (eriounes) opened the gate for the old man and brought in the glorious gifts for Peleus' son, the swift-footed, and dismounted to the ground from behind the horses, and spoke forth : ‘Aged sir, I who came to you am a god immortal, Hermes, My father sent me down to guide and go with you. But now I am going back again, and I will not go in before the eyes of Akhilleus, for it would make others angry for an immortal god so to face mortal men with favour. But go you in yourself and clasp the knees of Peleion and entreat him in the name of his father, the name of his mother.’
So Hermes spoke, and went away to the height of Olympus . . . [Priamos then ransomed the body of Hektor from Akhilleus, and laid down to sleep in the dwelling of the hero].
Now the rest of the gods and men who were lords of chariots slept nightlong, with the easy bondage of slumber upon them, only sleep had not caught Hermes the kind god (eriounes), who pondered now in his heart the problem of how to escort King Priamos from his ships and not be seen by the devoted gate-wardens. He stood above his head and spoke a word to him, saying : ‘Aged sir, you can have no thought of evil from the way you sleep still among your enemies now Akhilleus has left you unharmed. You have ransomed now your dear son and given much for him. But the sons you left behind would give three times as much ransom for you, who are alive, were Atreus' son Agamemnon to recognize you, and all the other Akhaians learn of you.’
He spoke, and the old man was afraid, and wakened his herald, and lightly Hermes harnessed for them the mules and the horses and himself drove them through the encampment. And no man knew of them.
But when they came to the crossing-place of the fair-running river, of whirling Xanthos . . . there Hermes left them and went away to the height of Olympos, and Eos the Dawn, she of the yellow robe, scattered over all earth."
Aeschylus, Ransom of Hector (lost play) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Weir-Smyth (L.C.L.) summarises the plot of this lost play which features Hermes as the escort of King Priam : "The scene of The Phrygians or The Ransom of Hector was the tent of Achilles, as in the twenty-fourth book of the Iliad, which the poet here dramatized. Hermes, the divine guide of Priam and his escort of Phrygians, preceded the entrance of the embassy to regain the body of Hector. Except at the beginning, and then only in few words, Achilles refused to speak to the god, but sat in silence, his head veiled in token of his grief for Patroclus. The gold brought as ransom was actually represented as weighed out in sight of the audience (Scholiast on Iliad X 351)."
Aeschylus, Fragment 148 Ransom of Hector (from Stobaeus, Anthology 4. 57. 6) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Hermes commands Akhilleus return the body of Hektor :] ‘And it unto the dead thou art fain to do good, or if thou wouldst work them ill--'tis all one, since they feel not or joy or grief. Nevertheless Nemesis (our righteous resentment) is mightier than they, and Dike (Justice) executeth the dead man's wrath.’"
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 106 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"On his [Akhilleus'] refusal to give the body [of Hektor] to his father for burial, at Jove's [Zeus'] command Priam, with Mercurius [Hermes] as guide, came into the camp of the Danaans, received the body for an equal weight of gold, and gave it burial."
HERMES IN THE FABLES OF AESOP
I. GOD OF THIEVES
Aesop, Fables 521 (from Babrius, Fabulae 57) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"Hermes filled a cart with lies and dishonesty and all sorts of wicked tricks, and he journeyed in this cart throughout the land, going hither and thither from one tribe to another, dispensing to each nation a small portion of his wares. When he reached the land of the Arabs, so the story goes, his cart suddenly broke down along the way and was stuck there. The Arabs seized the contents of the cart as if it were a merchant's valuable cargo, stripping the cart bare and preventing Hermes from continuing on his journey, although there were still some people he had not yet visited. As a result, Arabs are liars and charlatans, as I myself have learned from experience. There is not a word of truth that springs from their lips."
Aesop, Fables 475 (from Chambry 110) :
"Hermes wanted to test [the blind seer] Tiresias's prophetic power, so the god stole some of Tiresias' cattle from the pasture. He then assumed human form and went to the city in order to pay Tiresias a visit. When Tiresias was told about the loss of his cattle, he took Hermes with him and they went out together to seek an auspice regarding the theft. Tiresias asked Hermes to tell him about any sign from the birds that he happened to see. The first sign Hermes saw was an eagle flying from the left to the right, and he reported this to Tiresias. Tiresias said that this didn't have anything to do with the cattle. Next, Hermes saw a crow sitting on a tree who first looked up and then looked down towards the ground. Hermes reported this observation to the soothsayer and at this point Tiresias declared, ‘Yes, that crow is swearing by both Ouranos (Heaven) and Ge (Earth) that I could get my cattle back . . . if you were willing to cooperate!’"
II. GOD OF MERCHANTS
Aesop, Fables 519 (from Chambry 111) :
"Zeus ordered Hermes to instill a dose of deceit in every craftsman. With a pestle and mortar, Hermes ground the drug into a fine powder and after dividing it into equal portions he began to apply it to each of the craftsmen. In the end, only the cobbler was left and a great deal of the drug was still left over, so Hermes poured the entire contents of the mortar onto the cobbler. As a result, all craftsmen are liars, but cobblers are the worst of all."
Aesop, Fables 562 (from Chambry 108) :
"Hermes wanted to know how much people valued him, so he assumed a human form and went into a sculptor's workshop. He saw there a statue of Zeus and he asked how much it cost. The man said that it cost a drachma. Hermes smiled, and asked how much the statue of Hera would be. The man named a still higher price. When Hermes saw a statue of himself, he expected that he would be reckoned at an even higher price, since he delivered the messages of the gods and brought profit to mankind. But when he asked how much the statue of Hermes would cost, the sculptor replied, 'If you buy those other two, I'll throw this one in for free!"
Aesop, Fables 561 (from Chambry 2) :
"A man fashioned a Hermes out of wood and carried it to the market to put it up for sale but no customers approached him. In order to attract some buyers the man began to shout that he was selling a wish-fulfilling god who brought profit to its owner. ‘Hey you,’ someone said, ‘why are you putting such a thing up for sale, instead of enjoying its benefits yourself?’ The man answered, ‘I am in need of some immediate benefits, but this god happens to take his time when distributing profits!’"
Aesop, Fables 464 (from Babrius 119) :
"There was a craftsman who had a wooden statue of Hermes. Every day he poured libations and made sacrifices to it, but he still wasn't able to earn a living. The man got angry at the god so he grabbed the statue by the leg and threw it down on the ground. The head of the statue shattered and gold coins came pouring out from inside it. As he gathered the gold, the man remarked, ‘Hermes, you are an unlucky god, since you take no thought for your friends. You didn't do me any good when I was treating you with devotion, but now that I have wronged you, you give me this immense reward. I do not understand this strange kind of cult!’"
Aesop, Fables 563 (from Babrius 30) :
"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. It was getting late, and the sculptor had not yet sold the statue. He agreed that he would show the statue again to the men when they came back the next morning. In his sleep, the sculptor saw Hermes himself standing at the Gate of Oneiroi (Dreams). 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!’"
III. GOD OF INTELLIGENCE
Aesop, Fables 520 (from Chambry 120) :
"After Zeus had fashioned the human race, he ordered Hermes to give them intelligence. Hermes divided intelligence into equal portions and then applied it to each person. The result was that short people became wise, since they were more completely suffused with the standard dose of intelligence, while the tall people turned out stupid, since the potion that was poured into their bodies did not even reach as high as their knees."
IV. GOD OF HOSPITALITY & TRAVELLERS
Aesop, Fables 462 (from Phaedrus App. 4) :
"Mercurius [Hermes] was once the guest of two women who treated him in a cheap and tawdry manner. One of these women was the mother of an infant still in his cradle, while the other woman was a prostitute. In order to return the women's hospitality as they deserved, Mercurius [Hermes] paused on the threshold of their door as he was leaving and said, ‘You are gazing upon a god: I am prepared to give you right now whatever it is you want.’ The mother beseeched the god to allow her to see her son with a beard as soon as possible, while the prostitute wanted the power to attract anything she touched. Mercurius [Hermes] flew away and the women went back inside, where they found the baby with a beard, wailing and screaming. This made the prostitute laugh so hard that her nose filled with snot (as sometimes happens), but when she touched her hand to her nose, the nose followed her hand until it reached all the way down to the floor. In this way the woman who had laughed at someone else ended up being laughed at herself."
Aesop, Fables 476 (from Chambry 260) :
"A traveller who needed to make a long journey vowed that if he found anything, he would give half of it to Hermes. When he came across a bag full of dates and almonds he grabbed the bag and ate the almonds and dates. He then placed the pits of the dates and the shells of the almonds upon an altar and said 'You have what was promised you, O Hermes: I have saved the outsides and the insides for you!"
V. GOD OF THE COUNTRYSIDE (woodcutters, edible roots, hermai)
Aesop, Fables 474 (from Chambry 253) :
"A man was chopping wood by a certain river when he dropped his axe and it was carried away by the current. The man then sat down on the riverbank and began to weep. The god Hermes finally took pity on the man and appeared before him. When Hermes learned the reason for his sorrow, he brought up a golden axe and asked whether that was the man's axe. The man said that it was not his. A second time, Hermes brought up a silver axe, and again asked the man if this was the axe he had lost but the man said that it was not. The third time Hermes brought up the axe that the man had lost and when the man recognized his axe, Hermes rewarded the man's honesty by giving all of the axes to him as a gift. The man took the axes and went to tell his friends what had happened. One of the men was jealous and wanted to do the same thing, so he took his axe and went to the river. He began chopping some wood and then intentionally let his axe fall into the whirling waters. As he was weeping, Hermes appeared and asked him what had happened, and the man said that he had lost his axe. When Hermes brought up the golden axe and asked the man if that was the axe he had lost, the greedy man got excited and said that it was the one. Not only did the man fail to receive any gifts from the god, he didn't even retrieve his own axe."
Aesop, Fables 479 (from Chambry 166) :
"A raven who had been caught in a snare prayed to Apollon, promising that he would make an offering of frankincense if Apollon would rescue him from the snare. The raven escaped, but he forgot about his vow. Later on he was caught in another snare, but he ignored Apollon this time and instead vowed a sacrifice to Hermes. Hermes then said to the bird, ‘You wretched creature! How can I trust you, when you betrayed your former master?’"
Aesop, Fables 522 (from Chambry 109) :
"When Zeus had fashioned man and woman, he ordered Hermes to take them to Ge, the Earth, and to show them how to obtain food by digging in the ground [for edible roots]. At first, Ge refused to cooperate in Hermes' mission. Hermes then compelled her, saying that Zeus had ordered her to do so. Ge replied, ‘Then let them dig as much as they like, but they will pay for it with groans and tears!’"
Aesop, Fables 564 (from Babrius, Fabulae 48) :
"There was a four-cornered statue of Hermes [a Herma] by the side of the road, with a heap of stones piled at its base. A dog approached the statue 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.’ Hermes said to the dog, ‘If you can just leave the oil alone and not pee on me, I shall be grateful enough; you do not need to honour me in any other way!’"
VII. AGENT OF ZEUS
For FABLES of Hermes as an agent of Zeus see:
(1) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Messenger
(2) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Merchant
(3) Hermes Agent of Zeus: Contest Leader
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Hesiod, Works and Days - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- Hesiod, The Aegimius Fragments - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th - 4th B.C.
- Aesop, Fables - Greek Fables C6th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Suppliant Women - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th B.C.
- Plato, Cratylus - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Callimachus, Hymns - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History - Greek Mythography C1st - 2nd A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Photius, Myriobiblon - Byzantine Greek Scholar C9th A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.