An Introduction to Hermes

Hermes is the god of tradesmen and travellers, as well as thieves. As a god of communication he helps with the transmission of messages. He also acts as a psychopomp–one who conducts the dead to their new residence–as well as a messenger of the gods.

Stories and Myths

Hermes’ first myth has to do with his birth and first day of life; his first action was to take a tortoise and make a lyre from its shell. Later that day, he went to find his brother Apollo’s herds of cows, which he stole, driving them backwards in order to trick Apollo into searching in the wrong direction. When Apollo confronted him, he denied everything–after all, he was only a baby, newly born! Apollo brought the young Hermes to Olympos, where he apologized and gave Apollo his newly created lyre, and all was well.

He also appears in many myths in his role as escort or psychopomp; perhaps the best known of these tales is when he brings Persephone back to her mother.

Names and Epithets

Like many other gods, Hermes was often referred to by different epithets reflecting his different roles or aspects.

Hermes Argeiphontes. Refers to his slaying of the many-eyed Argus, the servant and watchman of Hera.

Hermes Promachos (Hermes of the Champions). Reflects Hermes’ role as a patron of athletes and athletic competitions.

Hermes Agoraios (Hermes of the Agora). Refers to Hermes’ association with the merchants of the marketplace or agora.

Worship and Festivals

Although Hermes had few major festivals of his own when compared with some other deities, he was quite popular in the countryside, especially in Arcadia. People would create piles of stones, known as herms, in his honor (in later times more artistic herms would be made).

A number of communities held a festival known as the Hermaia in his honor; typically this festival was focused on his role as a patron of athletes.

He was also honored on the fourth day of each month.

Symbols and Attributes

Hermes has a number of well-known attributes. He wore a winged cap, and winged boots or sandals, and he carried the caduceus. Today the caduceus is often associated with the medical field, due to confusion with the Rod of Asklepios (which consisted of a staff wound around with a single serpent, while the caduceus was wound with two serpents, so the confusion is somewhat understandable).

Both the tortoise and the hare are sacred to Hermes.

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