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Hermes Psychopomp | Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C. | Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Hermes Psychopomp, Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C., Staatliche Antikensammlungen

HERMES was the Olympian god of herds, trade, heralds, athletes and thieves.

This page describes stories of the wrath of the god. The most famous of these tales include the metamorphosis of the tell-tale herdsman Battos into a stone, the transformation of the lazy nymph Khelone (Chelone) into a tortoise and the curse placed upon the murderous prince Pelops. The tales of people turned into beasts were meant to explain the origin of the god's sacred animals--such as the tortoise and the hawk--and of the boundary stones (hermai) dedicated to the god.


AGRAULOS An Athenian princess (Southern Greece) who demanded bribes from Hermes before she would let him consort with her sister, Herse. Agraulos eventually grew jealous of her sister's good fortune and tried to prevent the god from accessing her sister's chambers, whereat the god transformed her into a stone.

AGRIOS & OREIOS (Agrius & Oreius) Twin, half-bear giants of the Triballoi tribe of Thrake (North of Greece) who offended the gods by devouring visitors to their home. Hermes as the god of hospitality and protector of guests was sent to punish them, and with the intervention of Ares, transformed the pair, their mother and nurse into birds.

AGRON A prince of Kos (in the Greek Aegean) who was transformed by Hermes into a plover as punishment for calling the god a common thief and other sacriligeous acts.

BATTOS (Battus) A man of Pylos (in Southern Greece) who was bribed into revealing Hermes' theft of the cattle of Apollon despite the god's warnings and as punishment was transformed into a stone (or herma).

EUMELOS (Eumelus) A king of Kos (in the Greek Aegean) whose children were all transformed into birds as punishment for scorning the gods. Eumelos protested against their treatment and for his foolishness was transformed by Hermes into a raven.

HIERAX A man of Argos (in Southern Greece) who warned Argos Panoptes that Hermes was planning to secretly steal the cow-formed maiden Io. Hermes transformed him into a hawk (heirax) as punishment.

KHELONE (Chelone) An Arkadian mountain-nymph (Southern Greece) who ignored Hermes summons to attend the wedding of Zeus and Hera. The god punished the lazy stay-at-home by transforming her into a tortoise.

LYDIAN VILLAGES Hermes and Zeus once visited a thousand homes in the hills of Lydia, disguised as travellers, to test the hospitality of man. They were turned away from all but one, and as punishment, turned the village into a marsh.

PELOPS A prince of Lydia (in Asia Minor) and later King of Pisa in Elis (in Southern Greece), who slew Myrtilos a son of Hermes, after the boy had helped him in the contest to win Hippodameia. As he was dying he cried out to his father to place a curse on the house of Pelops.



LOCALE : Athens, Attika (Southern Greece)

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 708 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[In the palace of Kekrops on] the right was the abode of Pandrosos, Aglauros on the left and Herse in between. Aglauros first marked Mercurius' [Hermes'] approach and boldly asked the god his name and business. To her question Atlantis Pleione's grandson answered : ‘I am he who bears his father's mandates . . . Only, if you'll be so good, stand by your sister [Herse] and consent to be aunt to my child. For Herse's sake I'm here; favour a lover's hope!’
She looked at him with those hard eyes . . . and asked a golden fortune for her services, and pending payment forced him from the house . . .
[But Agraulos was infected by the demon Envy] she set before her eyes her sister's [Herse's] face, her fortune-favoured marriage and the god so glorious [Hermes] . . . The happiness of lucky Herse smouldered in her heart like green thorns on a fire that never flame nor give good heat but wanly burn away . . . In the end she sat herself outside her sister's door to bar Cyllenius' [Hermes'] access. With honeyed words he pressed his prayers and pleas.
‘Enough,’ said she, ‘I'll never move till you are forced away!’ ‘A bargain!’ cried the god and with his wand, his magic wand, opened the door. But she found, as she tried to rise, a numbing weight stiffened her muscles; as she strained to stand upright, her knees were stuck; an icy chill seeped through her limbs, the blood paled in her veins. And as an evil growth beyond all cure creeps far and wide and wounds what once was well, so by degrees the winter of dark death entered her heart and choked her breath and stopped the lanes of life. She did not try to speak, nor, had she tried, was way still left for words. Her throat, mouth, lips were hardened into stone; and there, a lifeless statue she remained, nor was it white, but with her dark thoughts stained. Such was punishment that Atlantiades [Hermes] death Aglauros for her wicked words and will. Then, leaving Athens, Pallas' fabled land, he made his way to heaven on beating wings."

For the REST of this story see Hermes Loves: Herse


LOCALE : Triballoi, Thrake (North of Greece)

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 21 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"She [the Thrakian princess Polyphonte mated with a bear and] brought forth two children, Agrios and Oreios, huge and of immense strength. They honoured neither god nor man but scorned them all. If they met a stranger they would haul him home to eat.
Zeus loathed them and sent Hermes to punish them in whatever way he chose [for these two gods presided over the laws of hospitatity which the Gigantes had scorned]. Hermes decided to chop of their hands and feet. But Ares, since the family of Polyphonte descended from him, snatched her sons from this fate. With the help of Hermes he changed them into birds.
Polyphonte became a small owl whose voice is heard at night. She does not eat or drink and keeps her head turned down and the tips of her feet turned up. 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. Argios was changed into a vulture, the bird most detested by gods and men. These gods gave him an utter craving for human flesh and blood. 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."

For MORE information on these giants see AGRIOS & OREIOS


LOCALE : Onkhestos, Boiotia (Central Greece) OR Mainalos, Arkadia (Southern Greece)
OR Pylos (Southern Greece)

Hesiod, The Great Eoiae Frag 16 (from Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 23) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"Battos. Hesiod tells the story in the Great Eoiai . . . [Hermes stole the cattle of Apollon and brought them] past Mainalos [in Arkadia] and what are called the watch-posts of Battos. Now this Battos used to live on the top of the rock and when he heard the voice of the heifers as they were being driven past, he came out from his own place, and knew that the cattle were stolen. So he asked for a reward to tell no one about them. Hermes promised to give it him on these terms, and Battos swore to say nothing to anyone about the cattle. But when Hermes had hidden them in the cliff by Koryphasion, and had driven them into a cave facing towards Italia and Sikelia, he changed himself and came again to Battos and tried whether he would be true to him as he had vowed. So, offering him a robe as a reward, he asked of him whether he had noticed stolen cattle being driven past. And Battos took the robe and told him about the cattle. But Hermes was angry because he was double-tongued, and struck him with his staff and changed him into a rock. And either frost or heat never leaves him."

Homeric Hymn 87 & 333 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"An old man [named Battos in other sources] tilling his flowering vineyard saw him [Hermes caught in the act of stealing the cattle of Apollon] as he was hurrying down the plain through grassy Onkhestos. So the Son of Maia began and said to him : ‘Old man, digging about your vines with bowed shoulders, surely you shall have much wine when all these bear fruit, if you obey me and strictly remember not to have seen what you have seen, and not to have heard what you have heard, and to keep silent when nothing of your own is harmed.’
When he had said this much, he hurried the strong cattle on together : through many shadowy mountains and echoing gorges and flowery plains glorious Hermes drove them. . .
Apollon, as he went [in search of his missing cattle], came to Onkhestos, the lovely grove and sacred place of the loud-roaring Holder of the Earth [Poseidon]. There he found an old man grazing his beast along the pathway from his court-yard fence, and all-glorious Son of Leto began and said to him : ‘Old man, weeder of grassy Onkhestos, I am come here from Pieria seeking cattle, cows all of them, all with curving horns, from my herd. The black bull was grazing alone away from the rest, but fierce-eyed hounds followed the cows, four of them, all of one mind, like men. These were left behind, the dogs and the bull--which is great marvel; but the cows strayed out of the soft meadow, away from the pasture when the sun was just going down. Now tell me this, old man born long ago: have you seen one passing along behind those cows?’
Then the old man answered him and said : ‘My son, it is hard to tell all that one's eyes see; for many wayfarers pass to and fro this way, some bent on much evil, and some on good: it is difficult to know each one. However, I was digging about my plot of vineyard all day long until the sun went down, and I thought, good sir, but I do not know for certain, that I marked a child, whoever the child was, that followed long-horned cattle--an infant who had a staff and kept walking from side to side: he was driving them backwards way, with their heads toward him.’
So said the old man. And when Apollon heard this report, he went yet more quickly on his way, and presently, seeing a long-winged bird, he knew at once by that omen that thief was [Hermes] the child of Zeus Kronion . . .
[Apollon takes Hermes to Zeus to adjudicate the matter :] ‘O my father . . . He stole away my cows from their meadow and drove them off in the evening along the shore of the loud-roaring sea, making straight for Pylos ... Now while he followed the cattle across sandy ground, all the tracks showed quite clearly in the dust; but when he had finished the long way across the sand, presently the cows' track and his own could not be traced over the hard ground. But a mortal man noticed him as he drove the wide-browed kine straight towards Pylos.’"
[N.B. On hearing this, Hermes presumably then went and exacted his vengeance on Battos, transforming him into the tell-tale stone. The Homeric Hymn does not mention this, but the fact that the "tell-tale" is mentioned indicates the author knew of it.]

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 679 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"He [Apollon] was dallying in Elis and Messene's meadowlands. That was the time when he wore shepherd's garb . . . and, while love filled his thoughts and his pipe played soft soothing tunes, the flock he failed to watch wandered away, it's said, to Pylos' fields. The son of Maia Atlantis [Hermes] saw them there and drove them off in his sly way and hid them in the woods. No one had seen the theft save one old man, a character of that green countryside, Battus (Chatterbox), so named by all the neighbourhood. In those lush glades and pastures he had charge of Neleus' mares, blood mares of a rich master. Suspicious, he [Hermes] drew the man aside and coaxed him : ‘My good friend, whoever you are, if anyone enquires about this herd, say you've not seen them; and to thank you for that service, take a cow for your reward.’
He gave the cow. The old man, taking it, replied, ‘Proceed! You're safe; that stone will tell sooner than I,’ and pointed to a stone. Then the son of Jove [Hermes] pretended to make off, but soon returned with different voice and build, and said, ‘Good fellow, help me; if you've seen some cattle hereabouts, speak up, they're stolen; and you shall have a cow and bull, a pair.’ The fee was doubled! So the old man said, ‘There on yon hill they'll be’--and there they were. Atlantiades [Hermes] laughed; ‘You rogue, so you betray me to myself, me to myself, I say!’ And changed that treacherous heart into a stone. A stone called tell-tale still for all to see, marking, though guiltless, that old infamy."

For the REST of this story see Hermes' Theft of Apollo's Cattle


LOCALE : Kos (Greek Island)

The children of King Merops of Kos were impious and threw insults at the gods. His son Agron called Hermes just a common thief, and in wrath Hermes transformed him into a plover. The daughters were also transformed into birds by angry goddesses. Eumelos protested at their treatment and was turned by Hermes into a raven. The story is told in Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 15, not currently quoted here.


LOCALE : Argos (Southern Greece)

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 7 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Argos tied the cow [Zeus' lover Io who had been disguised by the god in the shape of a 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."

For the REST of this story see Hermes' Theft of Apollo's Cattle


LOCALE : Arkadia (Southern Greece)

Servius, On Virgil's Aeneid 1. 505 (Roman grammarian C4th A.D.) :
"For his wedding with Juno [Hera], Jupiter [Zeus] ordered Mercurius [Hermes] to invite all the gods, the men and the animals to the wedding. Everyone invited by Mercurius [Hermes] came, except for Chelone who did not deign to be there, mocking the wedding. When Mercurius noticed her absence, he went back down to the earth, threw in the river the house of Chelone that was standing over the river and changed Chelone in an animal that would bear her name. Chelone is said testudo (tortoise) in Latin."

Aesop, Fables 508 (from Chambry 125) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"Zeus invited all the animals to his wedding. The tortoise alone was absent, and Zeus did not know why, so he asked the tortoise (khelone) her reason for not having come to the feast. The tortoise said, ‘Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.’ Zeus got angry at the tortoise and ordered her to carry her house with her wherever she went."
[N.B. Hermes was probably the pivotal character in other versions of this fable, as in Servius above.]

For MORE information on this nymph see KHELONE


LOCALE : Lydia (Anatolia)

Ovid, Metamorphoses 8. 618 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Among the Phrygian hills [of Lydia in Asia Minor] . . . is a marsh, once habitable land, but water now, the busy home of divers, duck and coot. Here once came Juppiter [Zeus], in mortal guise, and with his father herald Atlantiades [Hermes], his wings now laid aside. A thousand homes they came to seeking rest; a thousand homes were barred against them; yet one welcomed them, tiny indeed, and thatched with reeds and straw; but in that cottage Baucis, old and good, and old Philemon . . . ‘We two are gods,’ they said; ‘This wicked neighbourhood shall pay just punishment; but to you there shall be given exemption from this evil. Leave your home, accompany our steps and climb with us the mountain slopes.’ The two old folk obey and slowly struggle up the long ascent, propped on their sticks. A bowshot from the top they turn their eyes and see the land below all flooded marshes now except their house."

For the REST of this story see Hermes Favour: Philemon & Baucis


LOCALE : Pisa, Elis (Southern Greece)


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E2. 6-9 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Pelops came to the wedding contest [of Hippodameia at Pisa, in which her father would race suitors in a chariot, slaying them in the chase], and when she got a glimpse of his looks, she lost her heart over him. She persuaded Oinomaos' charioteer Myrtilos to help Pelops; so Myrtilos, who loved her and was eager to do her a favour, left the nails out of the axle-boxes of the wheels. This caused Oinomaos to be defeated in the run, and to be caught up in the reins, dragged along, and killed . . .
So Pelops won Hippodameia, and as he travelled along, accompanied by Myrtilos, he stopped briefly at some spot to get water for his bride, who was thirsty. While he was gone, Myrtilos tried to rape her. When Pelops learned this from her, he threw Myrtilos from the promontory of Geraistos into what is called the Myrtoan sea because of him. And as he was being hurled, Myrtilos leveled imprecations against the family of Pelops [i.e. he called upon his father Hermes to curse the house of Pelops]. Pelops went to the river Okeanos, where he was purifed by Hephaistos, then returned to Pisa in Elis."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 1. 7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The Eleans said that Pelops was the first to found a temple of Hermes in Peloponnesos and to sacrifice to the god, his purpose being to avert the wrath of the god for the death of Myrtilos."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 14. 10 :
"Behind the temple [of Hermes at Pheneos in Arkadia] is the grave of Myrtilos. The Greeks say that he was the son of Hermes, and that he served as charioteer to Oinomaos. Whenever a man arrived to woo the daughter of Oinomaos, Myrtilos craftily drove on the mares, while Oenomaos on the course shot down the wooer when he came near. Myrtilos himself, too, was in love with Hippodameia, but his courage failing him he shrank from the competition and served Oinomaos as his charioteer. At last, it is said, he proved a traitor to Oinomaos, being induced thereto by an oath sworn by Pelops that he would let him be with Hippodameia for one night. So when reminded of his oath Pelops threw him out of the ship. The people of Pheneus say that the body of Myrtilos was cast ashore by the tide, that they took it up and buried it, and that every year they sacrifice to him by night as to a hero. It is plain that Pelops did not make a long coasting voyage, but only sailed from the mouth of the Alpheius to the harbor of Elis."

For another MYTH of Hermes & Myrtilos see Hermes Favour: Myrtilus


N.B. The curse of Myrtilos manifested itself in the sordid saga of Pelops' rival sons Atreus and Thyestes, and later in the lives of their children Agamemnon and Aigisthos. When Atreus and Thyestes were competing for the throne of Mykenai, Hermes caused a golden lamb to be born amongst their flocks, which led directly to a conflict over the kingdom.





A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.