Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Saturday, 7 July 2012

HERMES was the great Olympian God of animal husbandry, roads, travel, hospitality, heralds, diplomacy, trade, thievery, language, writing, persuasion, cunning wiles, athletic contests, gymnasiums, astronomy, and astrology. He was also the personal agent and herald of Zeus, the king of the gods. Hermes was depicted as either a handsome and athletic, beardless youth, or as an older bearded man.

 Hermes, messenger of the gods, flies on winged boots. He holds his kerykeion or herald's wand in hand, and wears a petasos (traveller's cap) and chlamys (cloak) ca 500 - 450 BC 

 Hermes with winged feet, fragment of caduceus (herald's staff), and robe draped across his arm and shoulders. C1st AD

HERMES , a son of Zeus and Maia, the daughter of Atlas, was born in a cave of Mount Cyllene in Arcadia (Hom. Od. viii. 335, xiv. 435, xxiv. 1; Hymn. in Merc. 1, &c.; Ov. Met. i. 682, xiv. 291), whence he is called Atlantiades or Cyllenius; but Philostratus (Icon. i. 26) places his birth in Olympus.  

In the Iliad and Odyssey  Hermes is characterized as a cunning thief. (Il. v. 390, xxiv. 24.)

As the herald of the gods, he is the god of skill in the use of speech and of eloquence in general, for the heralds are the public speakers in the assemblies and on other occasions. Hence the tongues of sacrificial animals were offered to him.

Hermes was also the god of prudence and skill in all the relations of social intercourse. (Il. xx. 35, xxiv. 282, Od. ii. 38.) These qualities were combined with similar ones, such as cunning both in words and actions, and even fraud, perjury, and the inclination to steal; but acts of this kind were committed by Hermes always with a certain skill, dexterity, and even gracefulness. Examples occur in the Homeric hymn on Hermes (66, 260, 383; comp. Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1337; Hom. Il. v. 390, xxiv. 24; Apollod. i. 6. § 3).

Being endowed with this shrewdness and sagacity, he was regarded as the author of a variety of inventions, and, besides the lyre and syrinx, he is said to have invented the alphabet, numbers, astronomy, music, the art of fighting, gymnastics, the cultivation of the olive tree, measures, weights, and many other things. (Plut. Sympos. ix. 3; Diod. l.c. and v. 75; Hygin. Fab. 277.) The powers which he possessed himself he conferred upon those mortals and heroes who enjoyed his favor, and all who had them were under his especial protection, or are called his sons. (Od. x. 277, &c., xv. 318, &c., xix. 397; Soph. Philoct. 133; Hes. Op. 67; Eustath. ad Hom. pp. 18, 1053.)

Another important function of Hermes was to conduct the shades of the dead from the upper into the lower world, whence he is called psuchopompos, nekropomtos, psuchagôgos, &c. (Hom. Od. xxiv. 1, 9, Hymn. in Cer. 379, &c.; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 561; Diog. Laërt. viii. 31; Hygin. Fab. 251.)

We have already observed that Hermes was considered as the inventor of sacrifices, and hence he not only acts the part of a herald at sacrifices (Aristoph. Pax, 433), but is also the protector of sacrificial animals, and was believed in particular to increase the fertility of sheep. (Hom. Hymn. in Merc. 567, &c., Il. xiv. 490, xvi. 180, &c; Hes. Theog. 444.) For this reason he was especially worshiped by shepherds, and is mentioned in connection with Pan and the Nymphs. This feature in the character of Hermes is a remnant of the ancient Arcadian religion, in which he was the fertilizing god of the earth, who conferred his blessings on man; and some other traces of this character occur in the Homeric poems. (Il. xxiv. 360, Od. viii. 335, xvi. 185, Hymn. in Merc. 27.)

Bronze figurine with phalluses (Naples Museum, Italy). The Pompeian Mercurius tintinnabulum. It has an attachment for a bell on his phallus, and also attachments on the two long phallic ‘antlers’ on his head.

The principal attributes of Hermes are:--

1. A traveling hat, with a broad brim, which in later times was adorned with two little wings; the latter, however, are sometimes seen arising from his locks, his head not being covered with the hat.

2. The staff (rhabdos or skêptron): it is frequently mentioned in the Homeric poems as the magic staff by means of which he closes and opens the eyes of mortals, but no mention is made of the person or god from whom he received it, nor of the entwining serpents which appear in late works of art. According to the Homeric hymn and Apollodorus, he received it from Apollo; and it appears that we must distinguish two staves, which were afterwards united into one: first, the ordinary herald's staff (Il. vii. 277, xviii. 505), and secondly, a magic staff, such as other divinities also possessed. (Lucian, Dial. Deor. vii. 5; Virg. Aen. iv. 242, &c.) The white ribbons with which the herald's staff was originally surrounded were changed by later artists into two serpents (Schol. ad Thuc. i. 53; Macrob. Sat. i. 19; comp. Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 7; Serv. ad Aen. iv. 242, viii. 138), though the ancients themselves accounted for them either by tracing them to some feat of the god, or by regarding them as symbolical representations of prudence, life, health, and the like. The staff, in later times, is further adorned with a pair of wings, expressing the rapidity with which the messenger of the gods moved from place to place.

3. The sandals (pedila.) They were beautiful and golden, and carried the god across land and sea with the rapidity of wind; but Homer no where says or suggests that they were provided with wings. The plastic art, on the other hand, required some outward sign to express this quality of the god's sandals, and therefore formed wings at his ancles, whence he is called ptênopedilos, or alipes. (Orph. Hymn. xxvii. 4; Ov. Met. xi. 312.)
In addition to these attributes, Hermes sometimes holds a purse in his hands. Several representations of the god at different periods of his life, as well as in the discharge of his different functions, have come down to us.

Hermes delivers the infant god Dionysus to the foster care of Silenus and the Nympha Nysiad.  ca 440 - 435 BC

 Johann Baptist Zimmermann, Helios in the sun charriot  accompanied by Phosphorus (torch),  and Hermes 

The fourth day of the month was sacred to Hermes, for that was his day of birth.
Likewise the fourth day of the week (Wednesday) was named after him (in Greek it was called Hermes' day, in Latin Mercurius' day, and in Germanic Woden's day - the Norse god Woden-Odin being identified with Hermes-Mercurius). The seven days of the week correspond to the seven heavenly bodies (the five visible planets, the sun and the moon); but the ordering was based on mythic tradition.

Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 20 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"On the fourth day of the month queenly Maia bare him [Hermes]."

 Hermes-Mercurius represents Wednesday in a mosaic depicting the seven days of the week. He rides on the back of a ram, holding a messenger's wand (caduceus) and set of keys (?) in his hands. He is crowned with a winged cap. C3rd AD

Dosso Dossi, Jupiter, Mercury and the Virtue


Dreams of omen were messages sent by the gods and the ghosts of the dead. Hermes presided over these, both in his role as the Herald of the Gods (the agent of all divine messages), the God of Sleep, and as Guide of the Dead, who traversed the paths between the lands of the living and the dead.

"Dreams (Oneiroi) are beyond our unravelling - who can be sure what tale they tell? Not all that men look for comes to pass. Two gates there are that give passage to fleeting Oneiroi; one is made of horn, one of ivory. The Oneiroi that pass through sawn ivory are deceitful, bearing a message that will not be fulfilled; those that come out through polished horn have truth behind them, to be accomplished for men who see them." - Homer, Odyssey 19.562

Hermes presided over the rustic art of divination by pebbles, practiced in the highlands of shepherds and cattle-herders.He was said to have learned the art from certain Nymph known as Thriai, given to him by Apollo in a trade for the music of the pipe.


Hermes was the god of guile in its many aspects: including deception, crafty words, persuasion, and the wiles of thieves and merchants. He also employed the sleep to maze the minds of men.

"May Maia's son [Hermes], as he rightfully should, lend his aid [to Orestes in the slaying of the murderers of his father, using a false identity and guile to gain access], for no one can better sail a deed on a favoring course, when he would do so. But by his mysterious utterance he brings darkness over men's eyes by night, and by day he is no more clear at all." - Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 811


Another role of Hermes, derived from his function as the god of cattle, was thievery. A major form of banditry in ancient Greece was cattle-hustling.
Autolykos ... excelled all mankind in thieving and subtlety of oaths, having won this mastery from the god Hermes himself." - Homer, Odyssey 19.396

She [Maia] bare a son [Hermes], of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle rustler, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes
Hermes ... to rejoice is thine ... in fraud divine." - Orphic Hymn 28 to Hermes

"[Apollo to Hermes:] `O rogue, deceiver, crafty in heart ... I most surely believe that you have broken into many a well-built house and stripped more than one poor wretch bare this night, gathering his goods together all over the house without noise. You will plague many a lonely herdsman in mountain glades, when you come on herds and thick-fleeced sheep, and have a hankering after flesh ... you comrade of dark night. Surely hereafter this shall be your title amongst the deathless gods, to be called the Arkhos Pheleteon (prince of robbers) continually." - Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes 282

Aesop, Fables 521 (from Babrius, Fabulae 57) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"Hermes filled a cart with lies and dishonesty and all sorts of wicked tricks, and he journeyed in this cart throughout the land, going hither and thither from one tribe to another, dispensing to each nation a small portion of his wares. When he reached the land of the Arabs, so the story goes, his cart suddenly broke down along the way and was stuck there. The Arabs seized the contents of the cart as if it were a merchant's valuable cargo, stripping the cart bare and preventing Hermes from continuing on his journey, although there were still some people he had not yet visited. As a result, Arabs are liars and charlatans, as I myself have learned from experience. There is not a word of truth that springs from their lips."

 RYCKAERT, David the Younger, Philemon and Baucis Giving Hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury 


Aesop, Fables 519 (from Chambry 111) :
"Zeus ordered Hermes to instill a dose of deceit in every craftsman. With a pestle and mortar, Hermes ground the drug into a fine powder and after dividing it into equal portions he began to apply it to each of the craftsmen. In the end, only the cobbler was left and a great deal of the drug was still left over, so Hermes poured the entire contents of the mortar onto the cobbler. As a result, all craftsmen are liars, but cobblers are the worst of all."


"Also the Guide, Argeiphontes [Hermes], contrived within her [Pandora, the first woman] lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods [Hermes] put speech in her." - Hesiod, Works and Days 80


"To Hermes ... are attached traditions from the poems of Homer: that Hermes is the minister of Zeus and leads the souls of the departed down to Haides." - Pausanias, Guide to Greece 8.32.4
Those who, by permission of the Parcae [Moirai], returned from the lower world ... Mercurius [Hermes], son of Maia , in constant trips." - Hyginus, Fabulae 251

Hades returns Persephone to the upper world in his chariot, accompanied by Hermes and Hecate. The gods have their usual attributes: Hades a bird-tipped staff, Hermes a herald's wand, winged boots and petasos cap, and Hecate a four-headed Eleusinian torch. ca 350 BC


Hermes was often described as the bringer of sleep and dreams. The Daimones who personified these were Hypnos (Sleep) and the Oneiroi (Dreams). Although Hermes and Hypnos are distinct entities in Homer, they may have originally been regarded as one and the same.

"He [Hermes] caught up the staff (rhabdos), with which he mazes the eyes of those mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again the sleepers. Holding this in his hands, Kratus (strong) Argeiphontes winged his way onward." - Homer, Iliad 24.339

 Popmeo Batoni, Mercury Crowning Philosophy, Mother of the Arts


Aesop, Fables 520 (from Chambry 120) :
"After Zeus had fashioned the human race, he ordered Hermes to give them intelligence. Hermes divided intelligence into equal portions and then applied it to each person. The result was that short people became wise, since they were more completely suffused with the standard dose of intelligence, while the tall people turned out stupid, since the potion that was poured into their bodies did not even reach as high as their knees."


 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Olymp,

 Veronese,  Mercury and the Graces

Some of the more famous myths featuring the god include:
 Hendrik Goltzius, Mercury

 Hans Thoma, Mercury


When Zeus commissioned that the first woman, Pandora, be crafted by the gods, Hermes bestowed upon her guile and deceitfulness, and delivered her to mankind.

Hesiod, Works and Days 60 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"He [Zeus] bade famous Hephaestus make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face [the first woman Pandora]; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, Argeiphontes, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature.
So he ordered. And they obeyed the lord Zeus the son of Cronos. Forthwith the famous Lame God [Hephaistos] molded clay in the likeness of a modest maid, as [Zeus] the son of Cronos purposed . . . and the Guide Argeiphontes [Hermes] contrived within her lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods put speech in her. And he called this woman Pandora (All-gifts), because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread.
But when he had finished the sheer, hopeless snare, the Father sent glorious Argeiphontes [Hermes], the swift messenger of the gods, to take it to Epimetheus as a gift. And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men. But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood."

Pandora is born out of the earth, molded by the craftsman god Hephaistos. She is depicted crowned and veiled, with hands raised. Above her flies an Eros (winged love god). The god beside her is either Hephaistos, molding her with his sculptor's mallet, or Epimetheus, who receives her as a bride as he tills the earth. Two other gods, Zeus and Hermes, one holding a royal sceptre and wearing an olive wreath, the other with a herald's wand (kerykeion), winged cap and boots, witness the scene ca 475 - 425 BC

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 200 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Apollo and Mercurius [Hermes] are said to have slept the same night with Chione, or, as other poets say, with Philonis [an alternative name for Chione], daughter of Daedalion. By Apollo she bore Philammon, and by Mercurius [Hermes], Autolycus. Later on she spoke too haughtily against Diana [Artemis] in the hunt, and so was slain by her arrows. But the father Daedalion, because of his grief for his only daughter, was changed by Apollo into the bird daedalion, that is, the hawk."

Correggio, Mercury with Venus and Cupid

Homeric Hymn 19 to Pan (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Pan, the dear son of Hermes, with his goat's feet and two horns . . . 

Plato, Cratylus 408b (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Pan . . . is rightly called goat-herd (aipolos), being the double-natured son of Hermes, smooth in his upper parts, rough and goat-like in his lower parts."

 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - Mercury Appearing to Aeneas


I) TORTOISE (Greek "khelone")
Hermes created a lyre from its shell, and transformed the lazy nymphe Khelone into one. The fable of the tortoise and hare perhaps demonstrates why this, and not the seemingly faster beast, was his animal.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 19. 6-7 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Within the temple is a statue of . . . Hermes with a tortoise which he has caught to make a lyre."

 Hermes with winged cap seated on a rock, his hand resting on a tortoise. C1st AD

RAM (Greek "krios")
Hermes was often depicted in classical art carrying a ram in his arms.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 3. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"We see a bronze image of a seated Hermes. By him stands a ram, for Hermes is the god who is thought most to care for and to increase flocks . . . The story told at the mysteries of the Mother [Demeter] about Hermes and the ram I know but do not relate."

HAWK (Greek "hierax")
Aelian, On Animals 12. 4 (trans. Schofield) (Greek natural history C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"There are in fact several species of Hawks . . . They are allotted separately to many gods . . . the ocypterus is a servant of Apollon . . . [and] the dove-killer is said to be the darling of Hermes."

 Hermes with a mantle draped over his arm, and a winged cap

 A portrait of Hermes (Mercury) portrays him as a youthful god with winged cap and caduceus wand. Imperial Roman


Hermes wielded a golden herald's staff as a symbol of his role as the herald of the gods. It was called kerykeion by the Greeks and caduceus by the Romans.

Homer, Iliad 24. 339 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"He [Hermes] caught up the staff (rhabdos), with which he mazes the eyes of those mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again the sleepers. Holding this in his hands, Kratus (strong) Argeiphontes winged his way onward."

Homer, Odyssey 24. 1 ff :
"Hermes Kyllenios (of Mt Kyllene) began to summon the suitors' ghosts [at dawn's first light]; he held in his hand the golden rod that he uses to lull men's eyes asleep when he so wills, or again to wake others from their slumber; with this he roused them and led them on [to the underworld], and they followed him, thinly gibbering."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 708 ff :

"The god with his wand, his magic wand, opened the door."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 11. 301 ff :
"Mercurius [Hermes] with his wand that soothes to slumber touched her [Khione] on the lips; touch-tranced she lay and suffered his assault [he lay with her]."

Hermes - Ornament from the decoration of the facade of then Sofia Bank, now DSK Bank central administration.Sculptor: Marin Vasilev (1867-1931).    

 Hermes of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil


                                     Mainz Hauptbahnhof in Mainz. Central Station, Mainz, Germany


Jean-Baptiste Tuby, Château de Versailles, France. Stone. In background right, the Chapel Royal.
Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720), Mercury riding Pegasus. Carrara marble, 1701-1702. Commissioned in 1699 for the decoration of the park of Marly, transfered in 1719 to the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens, replaced in 1986 by copies


 Werkstattperspektive Haber & Brandner

 Sculpted corbel showing a caduceus. Detail of the façade of a building at 9th Calle de Antonio Maura (street) in Madrid

Inscription and symbols of Commerce at the right side of the base of the monument to politician and industrialist Lorenzo Cobianchi (1805-1881), in Piazza Màrtiri di Tràrego square at Verbania-Intra (Italy), inaugurated on August 30 1903. Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto, September 8 2007.


Biblioteca civica Queriniana (Brescia)

 World War I memorial, Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Sculpture is entitled Hygeia by sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. Created in 1922, and dedicated to medical personnel in the war.

                                   Russell A. Dixon Building Caduceus (Washington, DC)

Terracotta detail, trident and caduceus Cristalla condominium apartment building, 2033 2nd Ave, Seattle, Washington. The building incorporates two outer walls of the 1915 Crystal Pool (later Bethel Temple) designed by B. Marcus Priteca, with its ornate terracotta. 

Hermes was identified with the Roman god Mercurius, the Thracian Zalmoxis and the Egyptian ibis-headed god Thoth.

Herodotus, Histories 5. 7 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"They [the Threikoi or Thracians] worship no gods but Ares, Dionysos, and Artemis [the Thrakian gods Ares, Sabazios and Bendis]. Their princes, however, unlike the rest of their countrymen, worship Hermes [probably the Thracian god Zalmoxis] above all gods and swear only by him, claiming him for their ancestor."

Herodotus, Histories 2. 138 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"[In the city of Bubastis is a] temple of Hermes [i.e. the Egyptian god Thoth]."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 319 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Typhoeus, issuing from earth's lowest depths, struck terror in those heavenly hearts, and they all turned their backs and fled, until they found refuge in Aegyptus and the seven-mouthed Nilus . . . Typhoeus Terrigena (Earthborn) even there pursued them and the gods concealed themselves in spurious shapes . . . Cyllenius [Hermes] [as] an ibis [i.e. the ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth]."

The Asclepius and the Corpus Hermeticum are the most important of the Hermetica, writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, which survive. During the Renaissance it was accepted that Hermes Trismegistus was a contemporary of Moses, however after Casaubon’s dating of the Hermetic writings as no earlier than the second or third century CE, the whole of Renaissance Hermeticism collapsed. As to their actual authorship:

.....they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences.

"Though cast in a pseudo-Egyptian framework,these works have been thought by many scholars to contain very few  genuine Egyptian elements. they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all-wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences.

The content of the Hermetic writings fostered the illusion of the Renaissance Magus that he had in them a mysterious and precious account of most ancient Egyptian wisdom, philosophy, and magic. Hermes Trismegistus, a mythical name  associated with a certain class  of  Gnostic  philosophical revelations or with magical treatises and recipes, was, for the Renaissance, a real person, an Egyptian priest who had lived in times of remote antiquity and who had himself written all these works.
It was on excellent authority that the Renaissance accepted Hermes Trismegistus as a real person of great antiquity and as the author of the Hermetic writings, for this was implicitly believed by leading Fathers of the Church, particularly Lactantius and Augustine. "
 Francis Yates,  Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition