Alex Rover | November 29, 2022


In Greek mythology, Hermes (in ancient Greek Έρμῆς) is the Olympian god messenger, of frontiers and travelers crossing them, of wit and commerce in general, of cunning, of thieves and liars, and the one who guides souls in the underworld, Hades. In later Roman mythology he was referred to as Mercury. Son of Zeus and the Mayan Pleiad. The Homeric hymn to Hermes invokes him as “of multiform wit (polytropos), of cunning thoughts, thief, rustler of oxen, chief of dreams, night spy, guardian of the gates, who was soon to boast of glorious deeds before the immortal gods”. Hermes is also the protagonist of many myths, such as, for example, that of Philemon and Baucis.

The main feature in the traditions about Hermes consists in his role as herald of the gods, a position in which he appears even in the Homeric poems, sharing this function with Iris. An interpreter who crosses borders with strangers is a hermeneus (έρμενευς). From Hermes comes the word “hermeneutics” for the art of interpreting hidden meanings. In Greek a lucky find was a hermaion (έρμαιον).

His original character as a Pelasgian or Arcadian nature divinity gradually disappears in the legends. As herald of the gods, he presides over skill in speech and eloquence in general, for heralds are public speakers at assemblies and other occasions. As a skillful orator, he was especially employed as a messenger when eloquence was required to achieve the desired goal. Hence the tongues of sacrificed animals were offered to him.

As heralds and messengers were usually prudent and circumspect men, Hermes was also the god of prudence and skill in all relations of social exchange. These qualities were combined with other similar ones, such as cunning, both in words and actions, and even fraud, perjury and inclination to theft, which is why he is associated with the archetype of the divine rogue. He is the god of deception, of the uncertain, of what passes from one place to another, for which he also led the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Acts of this kind were committed by Hermes always with a certain skill, dexterity and even elegance. According to the prominent folklorist Meletinskiy, Hermes is a deified trickster. He granted the powers he himself possessed to mortals and heroes who enjoyed his favor, as well as to all those whom he had under his special protection or were called his children.

As the inventor of fire, Hermes parallels the titan Prometheus. In addition to the syringa and lyre, Hermes invented various types of racing and the sport of wrestling, and for this he was named patron saint of athletes.

Hermes also acted as a psychopomp or guide for the deceased, who he helped find their way to the Underworld. In many Greek myths, Hermes is depicted as the only god besides Hades and Persephone who could enter and leave the Underworld without problems. Many Greeks dedicated sacrifices to him before traveling.

His symbols were the rooster and the tortoise, and he can be recognized by his purse or bag, his winged sandals, his pétaso (wide-brimmed hat) and his caduceus or herald”s staff. Hermes was the god of thieves because he was very cunning and shrewd, and because he himself was a thief from the night he was born, when he escaped from Maya and ran away to steal the cattle of his older brother Apollo.

In the Roman adaptation of the Greek religion (see interpretatio romana), Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercury, who, although inherited from the Etruscans, developed many similar characteristics, such as being the patron of commerce. In the Greek interpretation of the Egyptian gods, he is equated with Tot.

Since Müller”s demonstration, the name “Hermes” has been believed to come from the Greek word ἕρμα, ”herma”, which alludes to a square or rectangular pillar with the head of Hermes (usually bearded) adorning its upper end and with itifal male genitalia below. However, due to the testimony of the god in the Mycenaean pantheon, as Hermes Araoia (”Hermes Ram”) in Linear B inscriptions at Pylos and Mycenaean Knossos, it is more likely that the connection occurred in the opposite direction, from the god to the depictions on the pillars. From the subsequent association of these landmarks-which were used in Athens to ward off evil and also as boundary markers on roads and borders throughout Greece-Hermes acquired the patronage of overland travel.

Hermetic: It comes from the word “Hermes” (Ἑρμῆς). The relation of this word to the “impenetrable”, i.e. that which does not let air pass through, is indirect. “Hermes” was also used to refer to Thoth of Egyptian mythology being Thoth, the god of alchemy. The alchemists who followed this god came to be called Hermeticists because they kept all their secrets hidden. Thus the word Hermetic came to be used to refer to something sealed or secret. Other sources claim that this word comes from Hermes Trismegistos (Ἑρμῆς ὁ Τρισμέγιστος) which is the fusion of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. According to mythology, he created a completely sealed air vessel. This is where the word hermetic comes from.


The epithet of Hermes Argiphon (Latin for Argicide) recalls the commission he received from Zeus to kill the multi-eyed giant Argus Panoptes, who was guarding the nymph Io in the sanctuary of Hera herself.


His epithet Logios is the representation of the god in the act of declaiming, as an orator, or as the god of eloquence. In fact, along with Athena, he was the standard divine representation of eloquence in classical Greece. The Homeric hymn dedicated to him (probably from the 6th century BC) describes him giving a successful speech from the cradle to defend himself against the (true) accusation of having stolen cattle. Somewhat later, Proclus” commentary on Plato”s Republic describes Hermes as a god of persuasion. Later still, the Neoplatonists would see Hermes Logios more mystically as the origin of a “hermetic chain” of light and radiation emanating from the divine intellect (nous). This epithet also produced a sculptural type.


Other epithets of Hermes are:

Although there were temples dedicated to Hermes all over Ancient Greece, a major center of his cult was at Pheneus (in Latin, Hermaea). A myth stated that Lycaon, son of Pelasgus, had the first temple built for him.

As a border-crosser, Hermes Psychopompus (”guide of the soul”) was in charge of carrying the newly dead souls to the Underworld and Hades. In the Homeric hymn to Demeter, Hermes guided the Chore (Persephone) back to Demeter. He also carried dreams to living mortals.

Another important function of Hermes was his role as patron of all the gymnastic games of the Greeks. This idea seems to be of late origin, for there is no trace of it in the Homeric poems, and the appearance of the god as described is very different from what might be expected of the god of gymnastic art. But his images were erected in so many places, among them at the entrance to gymnasiums, that the natural result was that, like Herakles and the Dioscuri, he was regarded as the protector of youth and gymnastic exercises and contests, and that in later times Greek artists derived their ideal of the god from the gymnasium, and represented him as a youth whose limbs were beautifully and harmoniously developed by gymnastic exercises. Athens seems to have been the first place where he was worshipped in this role.It should be noted that the various functions of the god led some of the ancients to assume that several deities shared his name. Cicero distinguishes five.But these figures also include the foreign divinities, which were identified by the Greeks with their own Hermes.

The idea of Hermes as herald and messenger of the gods, of his journeys from place to place and deciding treaties, necessarily implied the notion that he was the promoter of social exchange and trade among men, and that he was friendly to them. In this capacity he was regarded as the maintainer of peace, and as the god of roads, who protected travelers and punished those who refused to help those who took the wrong route. For this reason the Athenian generals, when preparing an expedition, offered sacrifices to Hermes, surnamed Hegemonius or Agetor, and many statues of the god were erected on the roads and at the gates, a circumstance for which he received various epithets. As the god of commerce, he was called διέμπορος, ἐμπολαἳος, παλιγκάπηλος, κερδέμπορος, ἀγοραἳος, and so on, and as commerce is the source of wealth, Hermes is also the god of profits and riches, especially sudden and unexpected ones, such as those acquired through trade. As the giver of wealth and good luck (πλουτοδότης), he also presided over the game of dice, and those who played threw an olive leaf over the dice, and first threw this leaf. It has already been pointed out that Hermes was considered the inventor of sacrifices, and thus not only acts in the part of a herald in sacrifices he is also the protector of sacrificial animals, and was believed in particular to increase the fertility of sheep. This facet of Hermes” personality is a remnant of the ancient Arcadian religion, in which he was the fertilizing god of the earth, conferring his blessings on men, and some other features of this character appear in the Homeric poems.

Among the Hellenes, as the related word “herma” (”border stone”) suggests, Hermes personified the spirit of crossing: he was thought to manifest himself in any kind of exchange, transference, transgression, transcendence, transition, transit, or crossing over, all activities that involve some kind of crossing over in some sense. This explains its relationship to transitions in one”s fortune, to the exchanges of goods, words and information involved in trade, performance, oratory and writing, to the way in which the wind can carry objects from one place to another, and to the transition to the other world.

Many inscriptions dedicated to Hermes have been found in the agora of Athens, in connection with his epithet Agoreo and his role as patron of commerce.

Originally, Hermes was depicted as a phallic, old and bearded god, but in the 6th century B.C. this traditional Hermes was reimagined as an athletic young man. Statues of this new type of Hermes were erected in stadiums and gymnasiums throughout Greece. Among the things consecrated to him may be named the palm tree, the tortoise, the number four and various kinds of fish, and the sacrifices dedicated to him consisted of incense, honey, cakes, pigs and especially lambs and goats.


In early Ancient Greece, Hermes was a phallic god of boundaries. His name, in the form “herma”, designated a pile of stones used to mark roads and delimit boundaries and properties. Each traveler passing along the road added his stone to the pile, thus indicating his presence. Around 520 B.C. Hipparchus, son of Pisistratus, replaced the piles of stones marking the midpoint between each village (deme) of Attica and the agora of Athens with square or rectangular pillars of stone or bronze topped by a bust of Hermes, with a beard and an erect phallus at the base. In the earliest “Cilenean” hermas, the stone or wooden pillar was simply a carved phallus. In Athens, hermas were placed outside houses to attract good luck. As Walter Burkert noted, “it is astonishing that such a monument could be transformed into an Olympian god”.

In 415 B.C., the night before the departure of the Athenian fleet for Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War, all the Athenian hermas were vandalized, which was considered a bad omen. (See Expedition to Sicily). The Athenians of the time believed that it had been the work of saboteurs, either from Syracuse or pacifists from Athens itself. Alcibiades, Socrates” pupil, was suspected of involvement. Although he denied it and was willing to stand trial, Socrates indirectly paid for the impiety with his life.

From these origins, hermas were incorporated into the repertoire of classical architecture.


Hermes is usually portrayed wearing the wide-brimmed hat that travelers used to protect themselves from the sun and rain (called pétaso) or a winged cap. In later times this attribute was adorned with two small wings, although sometimes these come out of his hair, not wearing a hat.

He is also represented as wearing sandals with wings. Although Homer does not say or suggest that they were provided with wings, in later times they appear with wings, whence he is called πτηνοπέδιλος or alipes.

Another of his attributes was the caduceus (ῥάϐδος or σκἣπτρον), frequently mentioned in the Homeric poems as the magic staff with which he closes and opens the eyes of mortals, it not being said from what person or god he received it, nor that it has the intertwined serpents with which it appears in later works of art. According to the Homeric hymn to Hermes and Apollodorus, he received it from Apollo, and it seems that two staffs must be distinguished, which were later united into one: first, the ordinary herald”s staff and second the magic staff, like those that other divinities also possessed. The white ribbons with which the herald”s staff was originally adorned were changed by later artists for two serpents although the ancients themselves justified them either as a vestige of some characteristic of the god, or by considering them symbolic representations of prudence, life, health and the like. In later times, the caduceus was also adorned with a pair of wings, expressing the speed with which the messenger of the gods moved from one place to another.

Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maya, one of the Pleiades, daughter of Atlas. He was born in a cave on Mount Cilene in Arcadia, but some traditions place his birth on Olympus, and sometimes the epithet Atlantiades or Cilenius is applied to him.

In his first hours of life, he escaped from his cradle, went to Pieria -it is debated whether this is a place located in Achaia or another located in Thessaly- and took some of Apollo”s oxen. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, although this tradition is not mentioned, Hermes is characterized as a cunning thief. Other versions even refer the theft of the oxen to a later time in the life of the god. In order not to be discovered by the traces of his steps, Hermes put on sandals and led the oxen to Pylos, where he killed two and locked the rest in a cave. The skins of the dead animals were nailed to a rock, and part of their flesh was cooked and consumed, and the rest burned; at the same time he offered sacrifices to the Olympian gods, so he was probably called the inventor of divine worship and sacrifices.

After this he immediately returned to Cilene, where he found a tortoise at the door of his native cave. Hermes took the shell of the animal, stretched strings across it and thus invented the lyre and the plectrum. Some say the number of strings of his new invention was three and others say seven, and they were made of ox or sheep gut.

Apollo, thanks to his prophetic power, discovered that it was Hermes who stole part of his cattle, and went to Cilene to accuse him in front of his mother Maya. She showed the god the child in its cradle, but Apollo took the child to Zeus and demanded the return of his oxen. Zeus ordered him to comply with Apollo”s demands, but Hermes denied having stolen the cattle. However, seeing that his claims were not believed, he led Apollo to Pylos and returned his oxen, but when Apollo heard the sounds of the lyre he was so enchanted that he allowed Hermes to keep the animals. Hermes then invented the syringa and after having revealed his inventions to Apollo, the two gods became close friends.

Apollo gave his young friend his own golden shepherd”s staff, teaching him the art of prophesying by means of the dice, and Zeus made him his herald and also the herald of the gods of the nether world. Apollo refused to teach Hermes the art of prophecy and referred him to the three sisters who dwelt in Parnassus, but conferred upon him the office of protecting cattle and pastures.

Myth of Hermes and the negotiation with Hades

Greek mythology involves Hermes as a negotiator with Hades, in his explanation of the changes of the seasons, as follows: Hades, the god of the underworld, feeling very lonely, abducts Persephone from Earth and makes her his wife, after which her mother Demeter (goddess of the seasons and the fertile earth, older than Zeus), saddened and cast curses on Earth until she never sees her daughter again, thus beginning a period of agony for mankind. It was then that Zeus sent Hermes to the underworld to negotiate with Hades to return her. The pact was finally that Persephone would spend six months in the underworld with Hades, and another six on Earth with Demeter; the months in the underworld her mother is sad (autumn-winter), and when she returns to Earth, her progenitor is happy again (spring-summer).

The Greek god of nature, sheep and flocks, Pan, was often said to be the son of Hermes and Driope. In the Homeric hymn to Pan, the mother of the newborn god fled from him, frightened by his goat-like appearance.


Hermaphrodite was an immortal son of Hermes with Aphrodite. He was transformed into a hermaphrodite when the gods literally granted the nymph Salmacis her wish to never be separated from him.


Abdero was a son of Hermes who was devoured by Diomedes” mares. Abdero had been left to guard them while his friend Heracles fought with Diomedes” men.

Consorts and offspring


Driope or Penelope








Unknown mother



His services to Hermes were not limited to the offices of herald and messenger, but he was also his charioteer and cupbearer. As dreams are sent by Zeus, Hermes, the ήγήτωρ δυείρων, conducts them to men, and so he is also described as the god who had it in his power to send the comforting dream or to withdraw it.

The Iliad

In the Trojan War, Hermes was on the side of the Greeks. Sarpedon”s body was carried from the battlefield by the twin winged gods Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death). The pair is described dressed in armor and overseen by Hermes Psychopompus in canto XVI of the Iliad:

In addition, Hermes helped King Priam of Troy to enter the Achaean camp to confront Achilles and convince him to return the body of his son Hector.

The Odyssey

In Book V of the Odyssey, Hermes is sent by order of Zeus to free Odysseus from the island of Calypso. In Book X he protects Odysseus from Circe by giving him an unidentified herb called moly that would protect him from her spell. Odysseus, the main protagonist of the Odyssey, is descended through his mother”s line from Hermes.

Argos Panoptes

When the nymph Io, one of Zeus” lovers, was trapped by Hera and put under the surveillance of the hundred-eyed giant, Argus Panoptes, Zeus ordered Hermes to steal the calf, but was denounced by Hierax. Hermes had to kill Argus, for which he is commonly called Argiphon. For that killing he is very commonly called Argiphon. In another version, Hermes saved Io by putting the giant to sleep with stories and songs and then beheading him with a crescent-shaped sword. The eyes of Argus were placed in the tail of the peacock, symbol of Hera.


Hermes helped Perseus kill the gorgon Medusa by giving him his winged sandals and the sickle of Zeus. He also gave him Hades” helmet of invisibility and told him to wear it so that Medusa”s immortal sisters would not see him flee. Athena also helped Perseus by lending him her polished shield. Finally, Hermes guided him to the Underworld.


In some versions, Hermes was the one who bound Prometheus in the Caucasus.

In the tragedy Prometheus in Chains, attributed to Aeschylus, Zeus sends Hermes to confront the chained titan Prometheus over a prophecy that claimed the titan would overthrow the first of the gods. Hermes scolds Prometheus for being unreasonable and wanting to prolong his torture, but Prometheus refuses to give him details about the prophecy.

Herse, Aglauro and Pándroso

When Hermes loved Herse, one of the three sisters who served Athena as priestesses (parthenos), her jealous older sister Aglaurus came between them. Hermes turned her to stone and fathered Cephalus with Herse, Eumolpus with Aglaurus, and Cérix with Parthenos.

Other stories


  1. Hermes
  2. Hermes
  3. Himno homérico a Hermes 13. La palabra πολύτροπον polytropos se usa también para describir a Odiseo en la primera línea de la Odisea. Texto español en Wikisource. Texto griego en Wikisource.
  4. La palabra πολύτροπον polytropos se usa también para describir a Odiseo en la primera línea de la Odisea. Texto español en Wikisource. Texto griego en Wikisource.
  5. Lucien de Samosate 2015, p. 201.
  6. Jean Haudry, Le feu dans la tradition indo-européenne, Archè, Milan, 2016 (ISBN 978-8872523438), p. 460-461.
  7. ^ Bruno Migliorini et al., Scheda sul lemma “Ermete”, in Dizionario d”ortografia e di pronunzia, Rai Eri, 2016, ISBN 978-88-397-1478-7.
  8. ^ Burkert, p. 158.
  9. ^ Powell, Barry B. (2015). Classical Myth (ed. 8th). Boston: Pearson. pp. 177–190. ISBN 978-0-321-96704-6.
  10. ^ Lay, p. 3.
  11. ^ Powell, pp. 179, 295
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