Herald of the Gods
Hermes was an eloquent speaker, guide of souls to the Underworld, a protector of travellers and thieves, and the inventor of the lyre. He was also the patron of herdsmen and flocks, orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, and invention and trade. He kept himself busy and had so many duties that he was nicknamed poneomenos, meaning the “Busy One.”
Despite his many and varied associations, Hermes is probably best remembered as Angelos Athanatôn, the Herald of the Gods. He would convey messages between all realms, and was the personal minister of his father Zeus. He travelled frequently between the Underworld, Olympus, and the dream world, as well as through the mortal dimension. In fact Hermes was the only god allowed to pass freely through all these realms; other gods had to ask permission before entering the domain of another god.
It is said that jealousy of Hermes and his many talents drove Morpheus to the Court of the Underworld. Or at least, that’s the tale Hermes would tell.
He wore a broad-brimmed hat and shoes with wings while on his missions as a messenger, and also infamously carried a staff known as a caduceus, which had two serpents encircled on it. The twin snakes symbolised what alchemists considered to be the representation of the reunited male and female souls, through Hermetic mysticism. Sometimes they were also thought to represent the twin threads of life and rebirth.
“A son of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods.”Homer
Hermes was the son of the shy nymph Maia and ruler of the gods, Zeus. After giving birth to Hermes, Maia wrapped him up tightly and laid him down to rest. She then fell asleep herself. It’s said that without his mother’s watchful eye, Hermes began his first steps of cunning. Growing faster than could have been anticipated, the young god-child crept from his mother’s embrace and crawled away on the first night after his birth. As he ventured forth into the darkness, Hermes found a turtle, scraped the meat from its shell, and set reeds and animal sinews into it. In so doing, he created the first lyre.
Hermes’ next stop was the pastures of Thessaly, where his half-brother Apollo kept his herds of cattle. In an early showcase of the mischievous behavior that would come to define him, Hermes made off with the cattle. When Apollo discovered the theft and tracked Hermes down, the newborn god tried to play the part of an innocent baby. But Apollo was not fooled.
When Hermes continued to deny his crime, swearing truth upon his own father, Apollo appealed to Zeus himself. Finding Hermes guilty, Zeus ordered the young god to return the cattle. Which he did… minus the two he had already slaughtered to sate his hunger. Cornered, Hermes offered Apollo his lyre instead, a gift his half-brother eagerly accepted. So it was that Apollo first took up the lyre, the instrument he would use to become the greatest of all musicians.
And since Zeus did not punish Hermes for any of these acts, he learned very early in life that he could get away with outrageous behaviours.
Traits and Talents
Under his father’s vast protections Hermes was continually allowed to get away with questionable actions, yet to his credit he was much beloved by both his contemporaries and the general people, for he was charming, articulate, and handsome. Hermes was a surprisingly agile diplomat, and it was easy to interpret his sometimes rough edges simply as the hallmarks of an endearing rogue. However he was also impulsive, frenetic, hyperactive, and frequently restless. In his permissiveness Zeus shaped a son who might otherwise have fallen headlong into darkness, for Hermes’ most destructive behaviour usually came at a juncture of boredom, restlessness, or simple offence. Yet he was also clever, cunning, able to hyper-focus, think creatively, and possessed boundless energy. Given the freedoms and constant challenges of his responsibilities as herald, Hermes flourished. He greedily involved himself in every facet of Greek life.
Generally speaking, Hermes was a jack of all trades and master of none. His interests and abilities swept the board, from aiding the Moirai in the innovation of the alphabet, to his staunch advocacy and interest in sports and athletics, to his own musical inventions. He was always plying the others to share what they knew, such as Artemis’ mastery of the hunt, or his son Pan’s skill with pipes. He never did one thing at a time and frequently moved on when he grew bored. Perhaps his only unique Talent was a finesse for Travelling and Gateways, giving rise to the speed for which Hermes was later remembered.
Deeds (and Misdeeds)
“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’s Fables
As a messenger and herald, particularly for Zeus, Hermes involved himself in everything.
Perhaps the most celebrated of his deeds was his killing of the many-eyed monster Argos on the orders of his father, who desired to free his lover Io from Hera’s watchful wrath. After the attack on Olympus made by the monstrous Typhoeus, the vengeful mate of the Echidna, it was Hermes who came to his wounded father’s aid. Hermes also freed his brother Ares from his year-long imprisonment in a cauldron by the twin Giants Otus and Ephialtes, despite that Ares was not much loved amongst the other gods. In fact, none had previously even noticed he’d been missing, let alone wanted him back.
One of his most famous and regular roles was as the leader of souls to the river Styx in the underworld, where the boatman Charon would take them to Hades. It was a duty that regularly brought him into contact with Hades‘ minister, Thanatos.
Hermes was also known as something of a trickster, stealing at one time or another Poseidon’s trident, Artemis’ arrows, and Aphrodite’s girdle. He was the god responsible for giving Pandora a human voice, allowing her to create chaos and bring evil on men, by bestowing upon her “a shameless mind and a deceitful nature” and “lies and crafty words.”
He retrieved Persephone from Hades after her abduction, escorted Pandora to Epimetheus, led Perseus to the Graeae, and guided Priam safely to Achilles’ tent to reclaim Hector’s body (despite otherwise supporting the Greeks during the war). In addition, he showed Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera the way to Mount Ida where Paris was supposed to judge which one of them was the fairest. He assisted Odysseus several times on his quest and adventures, and also once helped Heracles in capturing Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld. His fondness for heroes was such that he took Perseus among his many lovers.
Father and Lover
Hermes had numerous love affairs, but not much is known about them. He fathered various children, including five sons. Autolycus was a thief and liar (and poets say that not a few of his traits were inherited by his grandson, Odysseus). Myrtilus was a sociopath who plotted his master’s death in a chariot race. Pan, a goat from the waist down who also had horns, was the amoral god of forests, pastures, flocks and shepherds. Eudorus took after Hermes’ better side, and was an uncomplicated shepherd who had a caretaking and nurturing quality sometimes seen in his father. His most notable son, Hermaphroditus, reflects Hermes’ androgynous and bisexual nature, and bore the names of both parents, Hermes and Aphrodite, Hermes’ most well known lover.
- 1st Age:
- 2nd Age: Ezra Rashka, historian
- 3rd Age: The Forsaken, Belshazzar, later reborn as Jadis Astarte