Hermes is a bright and graceful figure in the Greek pantheon. He was the son of Zeus and Maia, who was the daughter of Atlas, that great Titan who bore the world on his shoulders. Hermes was worshiped by the Romans under the name Mercury.
The messenger of the gods, Hermes was swift-footed and swift of mind. He had winged sandles and a snaky staff called the caduceus. He was, according to pantheon.org, "the god of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves." Like Krishna and Heracles, he performed feats of valor while still an infant, such as inventing the first lyre out of a turtle's shell.
Hermes also led the souls of the recently dead down to the underworld, making him a psychopomp. This is one of my very favorite words.
He seems like a good person to have on your side. Where is Hermes hiding nowadays?
Could he be the CEO of Hermes, the luxury scarf producer?
Hermes was a handsome god and had affairs with many goddesses, nymphs, and mortals. His union with Aphrodite produced Hermaphroditus, an androgynous deity.
His name comes from the word herm (pl, hermai). According to theoi.com:
square or rectangular pillar in either stone or bronze, with the head
of Hermes (usually with a beard), which adorned the top of the pillar,
and male genitals near to the base of the pillar. These were used for
road and boundary markers. Also in Athens they stood outside houses to
help fend off evil. In Athens of 415 BCE, shortly before the Athenian
fleet set sail against Syracuse (during the Peloponnesian War), all the
herms throughout Athens were defaced. This was attributed to people who
were against the war. Their intentions were to cast bad omens on the
expedition, by seeking to offend the god of travel. (This has never
been proved as the true reason for the mutilation of the herms.)
The real question is, did it work? Since Athens ended up losing the Peloponnesian war, I'd say score another one for my man Hermes.
Hermes also gives his name to hermeneutics, the theory and methodology of the interpretation of texts, especially of sacred texts. Hermeneutics is also the word I look up most in the dictionary, since I find the definition so boring that I immediately forget it.
Martin Heiddeger was a prominent hermeneutic philosopher. Could he have been the ancient Greek messenger god?
No way, Jose! Neither the CEO of Hermes nor the eminent German philosopher are nearly cute enough. Perhaps the divine Hermes is keeping a low profile.
My favorite story about Hermes is how he freed Io. Io was a lover of Zeus whom Zeus had turned into a cow (to hide her from Hera's jealous gaze). Hera saw through the trick and begged Zeus to give her the pretty little heifer as a gift. How could Zeus refuse?
Hera took Io and emprisoned her in a garden with her fierce, hundred-eyed servant Argus to guard over her. Zeus asked Hermes for help freeing the girl. Hermes took his new invention, the flute, went before Argus and played a slow, sweet song on it. Then he told a very boring story. Argus closed all of his eyes, one by one, and fell into an endless sleep. Hermes freed Io. Hera was enraged, but Hermes talked his way out of the murder rap the way he talked his way out of everything.
Hera took Argus's eyes and put them on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock.